Berkeley Haas Fellow Talks Myopia in the Face of Information Overload
O’Neill, who is also the Faculty Director of UC Berkeley’s Executive Leadership Program, and the former Chief Innovation Officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Obama, says that the “cognitive myopia” or narrow-mindedness that results from the sheer bombardment of sensory data flying at us every moment forces us to “rely heavily on our long-term memory to make decisions.”
O’Neill believes that these types of shortcuts—natural responses to over-stimulation—are where errors in judgment begin and “[sometimes] these decision-making errors can lead to catastrophic results,” she writes.
According to the article, “By blocking information that doesn’t fit with what we already know, or think we want to know, our brains enable us to make decisions quickly and efficiently. But often, we overlook key data deliberately or unconsciously.”
O’Neill cites governmental failures like pre-9/11 terrorist warnings the 2008 financial crisis, as well as industrial failures like the “taxi industry’s failure to recognize how smartphones could revolutionize ride-hailing services,” as well as “Uber’s belief that its treatment of workers and regulators would not impact its business reputation and growth.”
Many researchers and pundits are quick to point to big data to save the day but analytics have the potential to exacerbate narrow-mindedness if “statistics used to predict future events are based on past patterns.”
She points to an example where the state of Michigan discovered fraudulent claims for state unemployment insurance from a faulty big data algorithm and wrongfully terminated 20,000 human claims reps.
O’Neill writes, “If we don’t get the algorithms right, we’re setting ourselves up for failure.” Data notwithstanding, O’Neill says we need to take collective steps to reflect on our own unconscious biases.
O’Neill concludes, “Until everyone recognizes that we are all narrow-minded, we are not going to overcome it. And the remedies to the most pressing business problems or in government or in our own personal lives are going to require new innovative solutions.”