Using Optical Illusions to Challenge Our Biases

Are you familiar with the Ames Window Illusion? If not, you might want to take a few minutes to watch this recent video explaining the phenomenon, wherein a rotating trapezoid looks like it is instead wavering back and forth. This optical illusion, like so many others, tricks our brain into seeing something that isn’t accurate. But how does it work?

While there are multiple factors at play, there’s some evidence that our brains see the illusion a particular way because we live in a ‘carpentered’ world; much of the geometry of our lives is made up of manufactured 90-degree angles on walls, doors, windows, tables, and so on. But of course we rarely ever see these rectangular items straight on; we see them from different angles or perspectives, and our brain makes the inference – based on prior experience – that they are, in fact, made up of a series of right angles. And when something is added to the illusion that shows that it is, in fact, an illusion – like the pen in the gif above – our brain struggles to figure out what is going on.

Many of us are recognizing the impact of our life experiences on our decision-making. If it’s not essential to use an automatic response, slowing down our thinking to look from different perspectives can show different possible action steps, and ultimately result in a meaningful outcome. In an organizational context, the dangers of single-perspective decision-making are obvious – such an organization is less attractive to new talent and misses a wider customer base, becoming less competitive and efficient as a result.

How does this relate to building authentic community? How can we challenge our thinking this week to see differently?

This Week’s Tip:

Seek and synthesize different perspectives:

  1. Reading and research. I wrote before about being a “student of” rather than an “expert in.” Stay in the growth mindset, and be humble about your perspective. Don’t assume you know everything, because – sorry to be the one to break it to you – you don’t.
  2. Ask open ended questions. Seek new information and perspectives by asking open-ended “What…” or “How…” questions – of yourself and others
  3. Be creative. As a creative exercise – perhaps in your team – consider the perspectives of five historical, present-day, or even fictional people from different identity groups on the issue at hand. You could use the same five people for different scenarios over time, and/or refine them to include perspectives you might not be considering. What kind of data would be important to them? How do they see this decision fitting in with a wider context? If you find that you can’t imagine what their perspective would be, do some research! 
  4. Slow down and unplug. To alleviate the disparity between how much information our brain takes in and how much it can consciously sort through every moment, take some time to unplug and be present. This will help you to more accurately see the data in front of you, and allow your brain to make more informed (and creative!) decisions.

Try these this week and let us know how it goes for you; contact us or post in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear from you.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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