Phobias and biases

Our daily fears and perceptions about our lives can often determine our behavior. Fear leads us to postpone projects and shipping, to avoid taking full responsibility or to seek reasons for our situation outside ourselves. Our fears have a powerful control over us, especially the fear of failure, the fear of being laughed out by others (starts with school), the fear of not being accepted as we are, and most notably the fear of death.

Biases are our own preconceptions about what we think is right or wrong. They can often lead us astray, depending on how the neurons in our brain were interconnected. Even if these biases cause us to think that we are always right, in many cases we won't be. Science has already proven that rewiring the brain is possible no matter our age, provided we are willing to explore new ways of thinking that challenge our deeply ingrained assumptions.

As web designers, we are biased too—we prefer one technology over another, we follow established code conventions, we have style guides, we use design patterns because they must be right, we often do things with inertia, because “they have always been done so”. We use Photoshop, so it must be great, right? By setting solid constraints on how we work, we very often limit ourselves (“to define is to limit”). Even if that's the idea behind a constraint, we must make sure that we don't neglect our ability to see things from a broader perspective. We don't want to develop more biases simply through doing our work with routine.

I always wondered why in gamer forums people subscribed with their system configurations instead of with their names. It has become a question of status to compare who has the fastest machine, and because noone questioned this behavior, it has grown to become a bias for the whole group. It was considered as something normal to associate yourself with your machine. This shows that biases might not only be valid on a personal level, but be a dynamic characteristic for groups that stay longer together.

If we can be aware of our fears, biases and other tendencies, we can eventually find a way to compensate for them, sometimes even with the help of other people. Depending on the level of respect and trust we have for each other, we can be more or less revealing. If the other side knows our tendencies better, this will allow her to act on our behalf should the need arise, which can improve the result of the collaboration. It's not a weakness to admit weaknesses; we should rather question why noone is doing it.

If you are further interested in the topic, you can take a look at the extensive lists on phobias and biases on Wikipedia and see if you can find something for yourself.