David Dylan Thomas stops by to talk about his new book, Design for Cognitive Bias, recently published by A Book Apart. We talk about the illusion of control, confirmation bias, capitalism as a bias, culture fit, bias blindspots, the myth of the self-made man, move fast and break things, dark patterns, and what can we takeaway from learning about bias?
Time Jump Links
- 01:03 Guest introduction
- 04:09 A podcast on cognitive bias
- 05:29 Illusion of control
- 07:07 Confirmation bias
- 09:37 What about capitalism?
- 18:12 Sponsor: Framer
- 19:27 Is culture fit a bias?
- 22:03 Bias blindspot
- 24:03 The self-made man
- 29:29 Sponsor: Jetpack
- 31:20 A good defense against bias
- 34:11 Move fast, break things
- 38:12 Dark patterns
- 52:35 What's the takeaway from learning about bias?
MANTRA: Just Build Websites!
Dave Rupert: Hey there, Shop-o-maniacs. You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show, a podcast all about front-end Web design and development. I'm Dave--everything I see confirms that I am actually correct--Rupert and with me is Chris--
Chris Coyier: I'm going to project this upon you--Coyier.
Dave: Okay. Good. Yeah.
Dave: How are you projecting today, Chris?
Chris: Uh, well, I'm kind of just thinking that my future self is just basically me with nicer shoes, so he probably wants all the same things that I want.
[Laughter] We have a special guest on today and it's a big week for him, so we have David Dylan Thomas on. Hey, Dave. How ya' doin'?
David Dylan Thomas: Hey! Yeah, this is Dave--zero risk bias--Thomas.
Dave: Okay. Everyone gets their favorite bias as a nickname. Oh…
Chris: Oh, you know what made me sad about learning about this stuff a little bit? For our listeners, congratulations, Dave. You've just released a brand new book on A Book Apart all about cognitive bias.
David Dylan: Thank you.
Chris: So, go pick it up. Design for Cognitive Bias as well, so there's, you know, connections to all this digital work that we all do.
You know my least favorite part about learning about this stuff, though? It's fun to learn about all the biases. In fact, there are so many, it's actually kind of a fun thing to just dig into it a little bit because each one is its own fun little journey. But that once you know about them, it doesn't matter. [Laughter]
David Dylan: That's the most depressing part. To start, I watched this amazing talk by Iris Bohnet called "Gender Equality by Design," and it kind of led me on this path of trying to learn about every single cognitive bias I could. About a month in, it became very clear. I would go to a Wikipedia page about some bias and I'd be looking for the part where it's like, "Okay, and here is how you fight that bias." [Laughter]
Chris: Oh, right.
David Dylan: And I never found it.
David Dylan: There are maybe three biases I found where there was even a little bit of, "Oh, scientists have used this technique to combat it," but otherwise, it's just sort of like, "Um, there it is. Good night." [Laughter]
Chris: Have you recognized it in yourself too, that kind of--?
David Dylan: Oh, all the time.
Chris: I bet.
David Dylan: I picked zero risk bias because that is the one I think I suffer from the most because that's basically the bias where you can have an experiment where you say, "Hey, we're going to do an experiment and there's a 10% chance you'll receive a mild electric shock. But if you pay us $5, it'll only be a 5% chance. But if you pay us, like, $50, it'll be a 0.1% chance. People will pay the $50 even though it's only a reduction of 4.0-whatever percent because we love the idea of not having to think about things. I totally fall into that trap.
Dave: Wow. That's sort of the throw money at things bias.
Dave: Throw money at problems, bias, sort of.
David Dylan: Yeah, there is that too. We don't have a scientific name for it, but yes. Actually, no, we do. It's called capitalism. What am I talking about?
Chris: Oh! See, it reminds me of this thing in this video game that I play where it's like you can have flares on a weapon that you're using in combat. There's a 4% chance of flares but you can pay millions and millions of coins in this game to get 6% flares and people just line up around the block to do it. Kind of funny.
David Dylan: Yeah, I played Minecraft with my son, so I'm keenly aware there is a 2% chance that this thing will drop a special O. [Laughter]
Chris: Drop. Yeah.
Chris: Drops are the best.
Chris: Okay, so if people didn't know as well, you, for quite a long time, ran the Cognitive Bias podcast, which is just a gem and I'm so glad you've done that. Those will kind of last forever as these little digestible bits of, if you're interested in these type of biases, you can go. They're just these little bite-sized episodes, which we've never been able to pull off here on ShopTalk Show. We deliver these huge, long things.
Dave: Two-hour ramble-a-thons.
Chris: Yeah. [Laughter]
Dave: We're more than format. You're more the read books and do succinct analyses. We're not that.
David Dylan: Well, you know the reason they're so short? It's the only way I could guarantee I'd actually get one out a week.
Dave: Oh, okay. That's fair.
David Dylan: I made a deal with myself early on. I said before I was studying all these biases--
David Dylan: --I turned into the guy who wouldn't shut up about cognitive bias. My friends were like, "Dave, please, just get a podcast."
David Dylan: One Friday -- this is a time when I had Friday's off. One Friday, I sat down and I just said, "Okay, you know what? I'm just going to try this." I turned on Garage Band. I pulled out a mic. I'm like, "Okay, this is the Cognitive Bias podcast." I literally came up with the name during the recording of the first episode.
Then I picked one bias. I had a few show notes about it. I went through and I'm like, "Oh, that only took like five, ten minutes. I can do this." [Laughter]
Chris: That's awesome.
Dave: You did it the next Friday. That's great.
David Dylan: Pretty much.
Chris: And did it for years to come, too, so we applaud you for that. Can we have some fun with these biases? Do you want to--?
David Dylan: Oh, yeah.
Chris: Do you want to do some--? Because I know that even the book starts with some ones that are harmless. Then you intentionally spent most of the book talking about the ones that are harmful because those are a little more -- I don't know. They're a little more important, perhaps.
David Dylan: Marginally.
Chris: Let's, I don't know, pull a few out of a hat. Let's do this.
David Dylan: Sure. The one I always like to start with is called the illusion of control. It's where, if you have a game where you have to roll a die and you need a high number, you tend to throw the die really hard.
Chris: Oh, yeah.
David Dylan: But if you need a lower number, you tend to roll it really gently. If you think about it for two seconds, obviously it makes zero difference how hard you throw the die, but we like to think we have control in situations where we have no control, and so we embody that by how hard we roll the die. I love that one because it's so relatable.
David Dylan: No harm intended, but you get, "Okay, we're pretty stupid." [Laughter]
Chris: Because the person throwing those dice aren't even -- they're probably not being like, "I know this is silly, but I'm going to do it anyway." That doesn't even register. They just do it.
David Dylan: Yeah.
Dave: You know where I do this? The hard refresh for my browser.
Dave: Oh, I hit those--
David Dylan: Yeah.
Chris: The shift key.
Dave: --keys real hard.
David Dylan: [Laughter] It's like you've got to let the computer know you mean it. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, and that's going to make the cache clear better--
Chris: Oh, sure.
Dave: --because I'm going to hit it real hard.
Chris: I know. It's like hitting the walk signal 30 times to get across the street.
David Dylan: Yeah. Yeah, or elevators, back when we could use those elevators where you hit the "close the door" button over and over and it doesn't really do anything. [Laughter]
Dave: It's just a placebo button, right? Oh, man. This is getting me.
Chris: We did illusion of control. That's a wonderful one. We did zero risk. A classic is confirmation bias, which is a scary one, right?
David Dylan: [Laughter]
Chris: We're in election season and all this.
David Dylan: We are living in a confirmation bias. 2020 is confirmation bias incarnate. [Laughter]
Chris: You can be really aware of this one and, actually, to me, I almost wear it like a blanket sometimes. I'm like, no, I don't. Sorry, listeners. I don't listen to Fox News because it makes me upset, so I just don't. I'm going to put my little confirmation bias blanket on.
David Dylan: Yeah, I think the thing, especially in an election year because, in an election year, confirmation bias kind of teams up with ingroup, outgroup bias to make this big bias monster. For me, I'm a liberal, I'm a Democrat, and I feel very secure in my beliefs and my whatever.
David Dylan: The only way I can check myself is to occasionally ask myself, "Okay, do I agree with anything Trump has done at all?" Right? I'll hear something like he wants to extend the ban on evictions. I'm like, "Okay. I actually agree with that. Great. Okay."
David Dylan: I'm not a total narrowminded person in this. [Laughter] You know? But you look for -- yeah, but you have to ask yourself, "If I'm wrong, what else would be true?" If Trump is not an asshole, what else would be true? If I can find that and prove it, then great. If not, which, frankly, usually I can't, then I'm like, "Okay, maybe I'm still not totally making this all up for my own benefit."
Dave: To check your groundedness on your belief. Somebody can equally be like, "I don't like Hillary for whatever reason," or something, but the way you ground yourself is what? Sorry. You said it but I forget.
David Dylan: Oh, sure. You basically say, "If I'm wrong," right?
Dave: If I'm wrong.
David Dylan: Right? Let's say if gun control is a bad idea, right? For example, if I'm convinced that gun control is a good idea. If it's a bad idea, what else would be true? I ponder on that and say, "Okay, well, let me see if I can prove that." It's a way to actively disprove what you believe rather than actively prove what you believe, which is what most of us do.
Dave: Because we're always in a state. Yeah, we're in a state of always proving ourselves.
David Dylan: Yeah.
Dave: With every, you know, I read on the Internet. Some anonymous post blogger told me, yeah, the thing I believe.
Chris: Some of them are hard. Sometimes concepts are too big for me to even start, though. Like if it's capitalism is bad. That one is a tough one for me because I feel like I live in a bubble where that's repeated to me a lot. I see that one a lot and I don't get it because I don't really understand what the alternative is. I think, just because I've lived my whole life this way and I feel like I'm this kind of guy who is always looking to make his next buck too, you know, having entrepreneurial ideas. Don't I like capitalism or am I just not--? You know? Then I don't even know where to start unconfirming my confirmation.
David Dylan: Yeah, and I think that, with that, there are a certain set of biases that really have to do with context and how hard it is for us to see the water we're swimming in. Like if you're a fish, it's really hard to explain the concept of water. You know? [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, yeah.
David Dylan: Much less to say, "Oh, sometimes water is bad." It's a really hard thing to get around.
David Dylan: There are things like system justification bias where, no matter how bad a system is treating you or it just is, it's much easier to live in a world where everything works than to live in a world where things are broken.
David Dylan: Basically, if it's easier to process, hey, everything is fine. We'll just defer to that. That will be the bias we confirm. Whereas, thinking contextually about the bigger picture, we're not usually trained to do it, and it's interesting.
One of the things I looked at when I was looking at all these biases are, is there any cultural difference? Are these biases universal? Any country you go to, you're going to see?
Chris: Oh! Interesting.
David Dylan: For the most part, they are, except the set of biases that have to do with are you good at looking at context. There is one bias called Fundamental Attribution Error where, if I see somebody else run a red light, I'm going to think, "Oh, that guy. Ah, come on now," right? "That guy is a terrible driver. He's impatient."
Whereas if I run a red light, I'm like, "Oh, I was late." [Laughter] Right?
David Dylan: For me, I look at the context, look at the bigger picture. For that other guy, I'm like, "Well, he must be terrible." I'm not even going to consider the possibility that he was late for work.
In Western cultures, that bias is rampant, right? We're not good at looking at the context. We're individualistic. We think about ourselves.
In cultures that are more collectivists, where you're more used to thinking about the greater good and other people, so some Asian cultures are like this, you tend to see it a little less. There's this great experiment where you have someone look at a digital aquarium, kind of like the Netflix screensaver. You ask them afterward, "Just write down everything you can remember." For more individualistic people, people from more individualistic cultures, they're great at remembering the fish, right? They can describe the fish really well.
For people who come from more collectivist cultures, they can describe the fish. They can describe the color of the water. They can describe the background and all the little ferns and plants and all the little holes and the things. They're much better at looking at the whole picture because, their whole life, they've been raised, "You need to think, about the collective. You need to think about the big picture. You need to think about the context."
All of that to say, if we're bad at thinking about capitalism or systemic injustice or any of those things, it's because we're bad at thinking about systems, period. [Laughter]
Chris: Hmm. Yeah.
Dave: We just care about how it benefits us.
David Dylan: Yeah. What's in the foreground? Yeah.
Dave: Yeah. Not like, Chris, you were like, "I have an entrepreneurial spirit," and I probably share some of that as well, but you're like, "Capitalism is benefitting me. It seems like it's okay." Not calling you out or anything.
Chris: No. Please do.
Dave: No, but I think that's just the nature of it. There's so much. This sort of gets to the question I had reading your book. Ninety-five percent of our brain is automatic, I think you said. The lizard brain just working.
Yeah, how do we deprogram it or get around it? That sort of was my question because there are so many of these biases just go. They're just automatic, right?
David Dylan: Yeah, and I think about it very much like an alcoholic thinks about not going into a bar. Right? The alcoholic knows they are an alcoholic. This is a disease. This is this thing that they have. It is part of them now. They can't snap their fingers and make it go away. And so, they create these guardrails in their lives so that that thing they have causes as little harm as possible. That's the way I think about bias.
In a very long game, you might have particular tendencies that you can start to curb over time. But for the most part, as you say, this is happening below the threshold of conscious thought. You don't even realize you're doing it. [laughter] Knowing that, you create these guardrails.
For example, one of the things I talk about is anonymized resumes. Right? It's this idea that if you have two identical resumes and the only difference is the name at the top, if it's a female-sounding name, it tends to not advance. If it's a male-sounding name, it tends to advance. It's not because every hiring manager is explicitly a chauvinist and if you ask them, "Hey, do you think men are better at this job?" they'd say, "Yes." Most of them would say no. But they still exhibit the behavior because the behavior is happening at the subconscious level.
What you do is you say, "Okay, maybe I just don't show you the name," because, frankly, the name isn't actually helping you pick who is the better Web designer. That has no baring, so it's not relevant.
David Dylan: Right? Knowing that you have this tendency, I'm going to remove the design element to create a less bias process. Right? That's me saying, "Hey, I'm going to make sure. I'm going to lock all the bar doors for you because you're an alcoholic."
That's how I tend to think about, yeah, you've got this thing that I look down the page and there's no cure for or no short-term cure for. How can I use design to say, "Okay, let me make sure that that tendency you have causes the least harm possible."
Chris: I've seen companies actually do this, too. It's not just theoretical. I worked with a company last year. By worked with, I meant I have a job board on CodePen and they wanted to run a bunch of jobs on it as different tests.
They were telling me all about their hiring process. They did the no names thing to eliminate their own biases, so it's a thing you can do. I guess it's a little bit more complicated of a process because somebody accidentally looks at those names, probably, as they're coming in. Then that person needs to then remove the name and pass them to the next person, probably. It's certainly doable.
David Dylan: Yeah, and if you think about it, this is why I kind of married design with this. Part of it is just, that's my background. I'm a UX practitioner, content strategist, and so that's the head I'm bringing to looking at bias.
When I think about it, it's like, okay. It's not just blanking the resume as it comes in. That's the really short-term solution. The somewhat longer-term solution is to say, "Okay. When you're filling out this job application, I'm just not going to ask you for your name. I'm going to assign you an identity based on the order it came in so that I have a unique identifier for you."
From a design standpoint, from a code standpoint, these are solved problems. I know how to gather data in a way that is anonymized. We've known how to do that for a very long time. It's just, we've never thought of applying that to resumes because we're used to thinking of resumes as, "I'm going to sit down and have coffee with you and I'll get a vibe. Then I'll know whether I want you in my company," right?
David Dylan: That's how we really think about hiring.
David Dylan: The idea of thinking -- and we don't think about all the biases that are inherent to that whole scenario. If we think about hiring as more just scientifically, not to make it totally cold, but as, like, okay, what are all the--? Because the scientists are always looking for opportunities for bias to come in and ruin their experiments. If we think about it that way, it's like, oh, right. If I know what college you went to, mere familiarity or mere exposure effect is going to make me like you better than someone who went to a college I've never heard of.
David Dylan: But they might actually be better at their job. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah. No, that's interesting thinking of it more of as a scientific process. You're just trying to root out any kind of variable that would impact the, I guess, test.
Chris: Wow. I like the thinking of science as a way, like they're actively trying to fight these biases so their science will be better.
David Dylan: That's why the scientific method was invented was because of literally confirmation bias. They're realizing that we aren't going to get reliable data or reliable results that are going to help us in the field or that are going to help us actually build new things if these things are biased. You're going to get out in the field and find out your fire extinguisher doesn't work. You don't want that. [laughter]
[Banjo music starts]
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[Banjo music stops]
Dave: Our popular ideas, like "culture fit" hands, is that sort of, I guess, like a bias factory? Is that just bad news all around?
David Dylan: I mean that's just ingroup bias, right?
David Dylan: That's just a fancy word for, we like the way we are and we don't want to grow.
David Dylan: I used to sort of think about that a lot. I used to buy into -- I mean it's very comfortable. It's like a comfortable shoe, the notion of, "Oh, I'm going to have coffee with you and we'll vibe," right?
David Dylan: I'll figure out if you're like us.
David Dylan: But from another lens that's super monoculture, even if it's a good culture, even if it's like, I like hanging out with these people, that's still a very fixed mindset versus growth mindset. What I love is -- I forget who said this, but someone was saying, don't look for culture fit. Look for someone who is going to make your culture grow.
To me, the new hotness isn't, "Oh, we're going to be more diverse and you're going to come into my company, person of color or woman, and fit in now. We're going to change whatever unique things you bring to the table so that you're like us." You know?
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
David Dylan: Which is why you see, a lot of times, when people try to diversity initiatives. People will come in and, six months later, they leave because they didn't feel welcome.
David Dylan: To me, the new hotness is saying, "Okay, we're going to bring you in specifically because you're different from us. Not different in a way that we think is going to make our culture worse, but in a way that we think is going to make our culture better because we see our culture as something that is evolving constantly," rather than this one fixed, perfect little diamond that we can't touch.
Chris: That's great.
Dave: You just don't create a bunch of replicants. I don't know. It's not a borg. It's a company.
David Dylan: I think of it like the Avengers. Why would you form a team like the Avengers and then have them all be Iron Man? What's the point?
Chris: Oh, that's the best!
David Dylan: Right?
Chris: What a good example.
Dave: Because Iron Man 3 was not a great movie.
David Dylan: Oh, don't start. I will fight you point-by-point.
Dave: Oh, really?
David Dylan: Just because I'm a Shane Black fan.
David Dylan: Right? So, it's going to turn into a whole thing. [Laughter]
Chris: Okay. Well, was there a fanatism bias? Let me check.
David Dylan: Oh, yeah.
David Dylan: My movie-going is highly biased. [Laughter]
Chris: Is there a cyclical bias? Is there a bias where you think you're above bias?
David Dylan: Oh, there's a bias blind spot. It's one of the first ones I did on the podcast. It's basically the idea that you think you don't have any biases, but you're sure that everybody else does.
Chris: Yeah, is that the, "I don't see race," one?
David Dylan: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Dave: Oh, yeah. I transcend it. It's easy.
Chris: [Laughter] But I think, even if you don't think you're one of those people, that you might think they exist too.
David Dylan: Yeah.
Chris: That if somebody is just this really transcendent character in whatever industry you happen to be in, it's like, "Look at how rich and successful they are and how eloquent they are. Oh, my god. They must just live on another -- they're so smart. The way they think is so evolved. They must be totally above biases."
David Dylan: I don't know that there's a word for this, but there is definitely a myth, an entrepreneur myth that we have in this country around folks like Steve Jobs or Michael Bloomberg or Warren Buffett or whoever where it's like, part of it is the capitalism thing of equating riches with virtue. If you're rich--
I don't even want to say capitalist. It's like it's puritan. If you're rich, it must be because you were smart enough and bold enough and brave enough to do that. Yourwealth is an indicator of virtue.
Actually, there is a word for this. It's called Halo Effect. If you're rich, you must also be smart. You must also be kind. You must also be fancy and all these other things. There's no such thing as being rich and evil.
David Dylan: It must all go together perfectly.
Dave: That's some theism mixed in there, probably, huh?
David Dylan: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
Dave: I could think back in Bible times or whatever, it's like, "Well, they're rich. God must like them," or whatever. I think it's just a very big, loaded idea, right?
Chris: I'm going to be the rich guy with mustard on his shirt, though, so I'm going to tear down that wall.
David Dylan: [Laughter] Yeah, please go in and ruin that myth for us.
David Dylan: The other piece, going back to the collectivist, individualist thing is also the notion of a self-made man. Right? This notion that if you're smart in America, you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps, which is physically impossible, by the way. You can pull up by your own bootstraps and without anyone's help and without any degree of luck, become who you are. Right?
When people -- I got asked a little while ago for an article, like, what do I credit my success. I was very careful about how I answered that because, at that point in my life, I was hyperaware of that myth. And so, I sort of credited--
I think what I said was persistence and luck. The persistence part was, I did very much, like I said, I looked up literally every single bias on this one Wikipedia page. Like day-by-day for a year and did 100 episodes of a podcast. There's definitely some persistence involved there.
But the fact that I had access to the Internet, the fact that I was born to a woman who stressed education, was willing to go into debt to send me to a good school, the fact I was born in a country that at a certain level of, and at a time when a black man could do certain things that I met the people I did. People assisted me. That I had access to the technology to even do the podcast. There are so many factors that I didn't really control.
Chris: Oh, that's great.
David Dylan: The fact that I'm a man, right?
David Dylan: And was taken more seriously than a woman would have been, in certain situations. All of those things, I had no control over. Basically, I like to give luck its due because I want the narrative to include that so that we start to dismantle a bit the myth of, no matter what the system says, no matter what the circumstances are, if you yourself are virtuous and true, everything will work out for you.
Chris: When I first -- this isn't necessarily about this. We have more biases we have to get into, but I like that you said that because you think of -- when I first heard the word "privileged," it seemed like a weird one. It takes a minute to wrap your head around that one. I'm like, I don't feel privileged. That's like the required first response to that. I've had hard times too.
But then I look back at my life because you get this, too. Interviewers always ask you that. Anybody wants to know, "Where did you come from? How did you get to where you are?" You're like--
Reflecting back upon my history, I was like, "You know what? I have faced no difficulty ever," comparatively. You know? It's not like everything was handed to me but, at the same time, it kind of was. I don't think, in my whole life, I've ever faced a real bad door slamming in my face, ever - ever. I only ever get, "Oh, come on. Welcome. Come." You know? "Learn. Do good. Be you."
I don't know if that has anything to do with bias but, reflectively, it's interesting.
David Dylan: Yeah, and bias, at the end of the day, is very often a set of patterns that you just keep living out because they're easy to process, right? From your point of view--
The trick with privilege is that if you have it, you can't see it. It is self-effacing by nature. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world it didn't exist. j
The greatest trick privilege ever pulls is convincing you, you don't have it. Right? [Laughter]
David Dylan: From your perspective, it is very difficult to see. Everyone knows what it feels like to be rejected. But the circumstances around that rejection are relative. The metaphor I always love is, privilege is like playing life on the easiest difficulty setting.
David Dylan: It's not that it's not difficult. It's just that if you were to crank that up a couple bars, you'd be like, "How does anyone win this game?"
Chris: That's great. should we do a few more?
David Dylan: Sure.
Chris: There are some other things to talk about but these are just great. Every one of them unlocks interesting doors in your mind, doesn't it? I've listened to so many of these little podcast chunks. I'm trying to think of -- all but the gambler's one. We already talked about gambling a little bit.00:28:03
David Dylan: I did a whole -- I think Season 2 is all about probability and how bad we are at thinking about probability. I can attest to this. I took probability in college thinking it would be really easy because everyone thinks they understand chance and how numbers work.
Chris: Mm-hmm. Well, there's a bias right there then.
David Dylan: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It's a little Dunning-Kruger going on there. But in fact, oh, my god. Probability is so hard and we're so bad at thinking about it. Gamblers ruin and a whole set of biases around that, it's this notion of when people are gambling. There's a team that's doing terribly. You start to think, "Oh, well, they're due."
There's a great joke on The Simpsons where Krusty the Clown loses all his money betting against the Harlem Globetrotters because he says the generals were due. [Laughter]
David Dylan: But if you see someone lose over and over and over and over again, you're like, "Oh, well then they must be due for a win. I'm going to bet that they win," when in fact that individual game, they have exactly the same chance of winning as every other game. We forget that the clock resets for every single game.
Like every single coin flip. Even if it's been heads the past 20 times, the odds of it being heads are still 50/50 on the 21st flip. But we think, "Oh, my god. How can it be heads again? I'm going to bet for tails."
Chris: Yeah. Then if it happens to be tails, oh gosh are you a genius.
David Dylan: Yeah, exactly.
Dave: Ah, yeah. I used my--whatever--god brain to figure that out.
[Banjo music starts]
Chris: This episode of ShopTalk Show is brought to you in part by jetpackcrm.com. Like all good business URLs, it's literally just their name, jetpackcrm.com.
It's under the Jetpack brand. They've been sponsoring ShopTalk for a while, Jetpack being the plugin for WordPress that brings WordPress all kinds of more power. This is under that umbrella, but it doesn't come with the default Jetpack plugin. This is a separate thing that you install and it's even a la carte priced, so you're not paying for it if you're not already. You can just opt into it.
It's a CRM product, you know, like customer relationship management. That means putting your customers in there so you can, for example, create invoices for them or quotes for them and just manage the transactions and when you've talked to them. There are all kinds of tools for dealing with the people, which is a fantastic and really required thing if you're doing client work or anything.
We might, at ShopTalk Show, create invoices for the advertisers themselves. Think of that. We might use Jetpack CRM to make an invoice for Jetpack CRM. How is that? Pretty cool.
What I like about it is that it's separate but it's still a plugin for your WordPress site, so you're not learning, really. I mean you're learning how this thing works, but you're doing it in the WordPress world. It's not some additional third party thing that you have to learn, that you have to manage, and CRMs are notoriously difficult anyway. There's just a lot to them. It's complex software. I really like the idea of bringing it under the WordPress roof. Over the years, every time I've ever done that, brought some functionality that I thought maybe best served by some third party thing and then rolled it up under my WordPress roof because I had a WordPress site anyway, I have thought that was a fantastic idea. I think this will be exactly the same.
Again, that's jetpackcrm.com. Check it out. Thanks for the sponsorship.
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Dave: One thing you mentioned in your book was like one defense against being biased or some of these common biases is being bilingual because your brain starts translating. [Laughter] If somebody gives you a little kind of word puzzle, "I have a baseball and a bat," and that cost one dollar more than the baseball.
David Dylan: Oh, that one. I always get that wrong.
Dave: How much is the bat? It's just tricky enough, you're just instinct is to say the wrong thing or just do some simple subtraction, but there's a little bit of algebra in there.
Like you were saying. If somebody knows two languages, they start translating it, like into French. You speak French. It sort of breaks up that bias, right?
David Dylan: Yeah, it's slowing down your thinking. The example I give, this has to do with the framing effect where, if I were to say you go to a store and you see a sign for beef that says beef 95% lean and then you see another sign that says beef 5% fat, you're motivated to get the 95% lean one but it's the same thing. It's just been framed in a way where one seem more appealing.
They've done studies where people who speak multiple languages, if they think about that decision in their nonnative language, they are less likely to fall for the scam. For me, I speak a little bit of French, so I'd be like, okay, beef, that's boeuf. That's like 20 vowels. How is that possible? Ninety-five percent, that's like quatre-vingt-neuf, maybe. I am trying to -- you know. By the time I've done all of that really thoughtful thinking to do the translation, I've seen right through the scam.
Thinking, Fast and Slow, is a book by Daniel Kahneman, which is fantastic and is sort of like the bible of cognitive biases. The basic idea is that there are these two systems of thinking. One is very fast and it's the system you use if you want to figure out, just by looking at someone's face, if they're happy or angry, right? It's very, very quick.
Then there's another system you use if you have to answer the question, what's 1072 times 400. Like, okay, I can't just snap judgment that one, right?
David Dylan: Thinking in another language pushes you more toward that system, too, that slower way of thinking. When you're thinking more slowly, you're less likely to do any of these biases because, again, these biases are just shortcuts. There are just these really simple shortcuts. You're cutting corners. Your mind is trying to do it because it's busy and it needs to get to through the day.
Dave: Question. Here's bringing it back to UX or Web development. This whole move fast, break things, is that again a bad? Is that? You know?00:34:24
David Dylan: I feel like the move fast, breaking, I was on board with that when it was first kind of introduced. I think it was introduced maybe 2008 or so. You had this big, entrepreneurial boom because everybody was out of a job and it was just as risky to start a company as it was to try to get a job.
Dave: Well, it's easier to say you're an entrepreneur then, "I'm unemployed."
David Dylan: Yes.
David Dylan: Exactly.
Dave: It sounds cooler. I'm writing a screenplay.
David Dylan: Exactly. Exactly right. So, you had this notion of -- you had this industry that had become very calcified, right? You had large organizations that moved very slowly and, as a result, if I have an idea, it's going to take all this planning and all this motivation to steer the ship. It seemed useless when some kind in the garage built a prototype in the time it took me to fill out a form asking for permission to have a meeting to maybe do this idea. Right?
I think a lot of the move fast and break things thing was just dealing with that frustration of, "Why can't we just do it? Let's just do it." There's a bias toward action there, which I like. But there are in fact the reason that, for example, the scientific community or the medical community doesn't necessarily embrace move fast and break things is because they know that there are consequences.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
David Dylan: Then when things "break," they're breaking for people like they're breaking people. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah. Yeah.
David Dylan: I think there's a middle ground where the notion of break things was break things that aren't going to hurt anybody because that's a thing. There are things you can break in a controlled environment. Again, that's kind of what clinical trials are, what science does. It's like, hey, let's test this before we unleash it on the world.
Chris: Feature flags, people. Get on it, you know.
David Dylan: Exactly. I think if you enter into the bias towards action with the spirit of first do no harm, you're in a good place because, yes, I don't want to just go through procedure for the sake of going through procedure. But if those procedures reduce harm then, yes, let's do that, but not needlessly wait and have 50 meetings before we do that.
I think there's definitely a way to embrace the spirit of move fast and breaking things without hurting people.
Chris: I've never heard that before. That's awesome.
Dave: The Hippocratic Oath for designers, do you think we need something like that?
David Dylan: Oh, absolutely, and people are working on this. There's a host of resources in the back of the book that talk about this, but Mule Design released a little red book of a designer's code of ethics, which is essentially a Hippocratic Oath. The Design Justice Network has an amazing set of principles that, even if you pick one of them and try to adhere to them, you'll be lightyears ahead what anyone else is doing.
I think we need it. I think we have the makings of it. I don't know if we want to go into the whole licensing conversation because it's fraught, but you want something. You want something that's going to reduce the harm that right now you're basically left to the goodwill of corporations. It's on Google to say, "Don't be evil," not because there are consequences if they're evil because there's not. [Laughter]
David Dylan: It's more just, "We're just going to choose not to be evil and you better hope we don't change our minds." [Laughter]
Dave: Right, so you're saying license in the certification.
David Dylan: Yeah, like if you want to practice.
Dave: Certified UX practitioner.
David Dylan: Yeah. Yeah, and Mike Montero talks about this all the time. I go back and forth, but whether license is the exact tool for it, but the point it brings up is like, look. People who do dangerous things need a license to do those things. His argument is design is dangerous because you can point already to any number of bad things that have happened where design played a critical role.
Dave: Cigarettes are good for kids. [Laughter] It gives them strong bones. I don't know.
I guess that's the next thing, like dark patterns. I was reading the book and I was like, ooh, I could maybe use this for conversions. Kind of knowing the psychology, having a strong grasp on all these biases, are we at risk of exploiting ourselves?00:38:40
David Dylan: Yeah, and it's tricky too, right? That's why the book -- spoiler alert: The book is actually about design ethics.
David Dylan: That's what it all builds to.
David Dylan: Yeah.
David Dylan: The design was unethical all along! No.
David Dylan: So, part of the thing you have to realize, once you acknowledge that design is the act of helping people make decisions, in a lot of ways that's very much what our job entails, and you accept the fact that most people are making their decisions far faster than they can realize they're making them. Ninety-five percent of the time, they really aren't paying attention.
David Dylan: Then third, you accept that your designs are influencing that part that they're not really paying attention. All of a sudden, as a designer, you have this pretty awesome responsibility because you're kind of sort of reaching in the back of their head and messing around. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, yeah. Right, like you're reaching into their brain. You're manipulating their lizard brain to do stuff.
David Dylan: Yeah, and you're doing that whether you know you're doing it or not. That's the trick. It's not like you have a choice between, okay, am I going to be good or evil. Let me decide whether I want to engage with that question. It's like, no, no, no, no--
Dave: Flip a coin. [Laughter]
David Dylan: Exactly. You're already engaging with it. You've already designed something that has either hurt or helped in ways that the user didn't understand. That ship has sailed.
Now that you know, the question is, what do you do with that knowledge? I think that's part of it is you have to engage. If it's a question of, I don't want to engage with this or I don't want this knowledge because suddenly I can use it for evil, it's like, no, you're already using it. I just want to make you use it better and know what you're doing. Right?
David Dylan: Then beyond that, well, I can't tell you whether to be good or evil. Everything in the book is hopefully geared not just with the assumption that you don't want to be evil but giving them a framework for not being evil. But more than that, the reason I talk about ethics and not morality in the book is, a lot of people have already talked about morality. There's Technically Wrong by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. There's Weapons of Mass Destruction. There's a whole corpus of books that are really talking about the morality of this.
The reason I come at it from a point of view of ethics is that ethics isn't necessarily there to tell you what is right or wrong. Ethics is there to give you a framework for asking the right questions to arrive at right or wrong. The same way that design, when you go to design school, it isn't necessarily about right or wrong design so much as it is about here are the questions you need to ask if you are going to do good design, if you're going to do good UX or good content strategy. Here is the set of questions you need to ask. Here is the information that you'll need to gather to then make the right decisions.
I'm kind of adding a layer of, and here is the set of questions to ask if you're going to make these decisions in a non-harmful way.
Chris: There's a little quip you do after a bias that was just like marketers take note because it was about this one particular little thing about a corridor and how the choices the people make at the end of the corridor are three of their favorite candy or three of different candy. I'll let you read the book to find it out--
David Dylan: Yeah.
Chris: --but the idea is that if you are a marketer, isn't that interesting? Even if you worked for Nike and you wanted to have some new running shoe billboard campaign or something and you have to write some copy for that billboard, putting, "Will you run more this year?" might somehow trigger something in somebody's brain better than, "This is for runners," or something.
David Dylan: Yeah.
Chris: Posing it as a question may be more effective.00:42:15
David Dylan: Yeah, it's this bias called reactants. It's kind of part of the reason we're in the state we are now, but reactants is basically the "you can't tell me what to do" bias. I'll just tell you the quarter example.
The easy example has to do with graffiti. They've done this where they take one wall and they put a sign on the wall that says, "Please do not write on this wall." Then they have another wall that says, "Under no circumstances should you write on this wall." Guess which wall got the most graffiti, right? Especially Americans, you don't tell us what to do, right? Don't. Don't.
Dave: What? Why is America especially bad at that?
David Dylan: Okay, America is especially bad at that because -- this is my theory, but because we were made up of the people -- except slaves who had no choice -- we were made up of people who said, "Rather than stay in a country that is limiting my freedom, I'm going to take my toys and go somewhere else." Right?
David Dylan: Versus people who stayed and said, "Okay, this sucks, but I'm going to live with it or try to change it from within." Right?
We are especially the people who are like, "No, uh, King, you can't tell me what to do. I'm going to go somewhere else," or "No, you can't tell me that puritanism isn't allowed. I'm going to go somewhere else." Right?
David Dylan: Versus the folks who were like, "Okay, I guess I can't be a puritan." You know? [Laughter] That, I think, is especially. But, in general, people don't like being told what to do.
Dave: Yeah. Yeah. People don't like it. It's just like their reaction to it, like a scale of one to ten.
David Dylan: Exactly.
Dave: I mean I think we're seeing tens across the board on the news.
David Dylan: Yeah. I mean the mask thing, right? Part of the reason--
David Dylan: There's certainly a political dimension, but part of the reason that people are being so, let's say, overly reactive to the notion of wearing a mask is this notion of, "Well, you can't tell me what to do." [Laughter] Right?
Dave: Yeah. Where, in Japan, I lived in Japan and it was 10, 20 years ago now, but it was like people get sick. They just wear a mask.
David Dylan: Yeah.
Dave: It's just normal. They sell it at the fricken' convenience store. It's just normal. Then people are kind of like, "Why aren't you wearing a mask? You sound sick?" You're like, "Oh, maybe I should be wearing a mask." But here it's like, "Well, shoot. I'm going to drive my motorcycle into your business. You can't tell me not to wear a mask." I don't know. I don't get it. I don't know.
David Dylan: Yeah.
Dave: I always get back to, like, why is America so extreme on this?
David Dylan: Yeah, and it's because -- I mean I hate to bring everything back to capitalism, but there's a great argument that keeps coming up. When people say, "Oh, we can send a person to the moon but we can't feed the homeless," or "America is the richest country in the world but we have one of the worst rates when it comes to Coronavirus. How can that be?" I think it's based on this bias that money equals competence or money equals reach. Because we have enough money to do a thing--
Dave: It's that halo effect.
David Dylan: Yeah, if we have enough money to do a thing, we would do it. What I think people miss, and again, this is my own theory, but what I think people miss is that the reason we're the richest company -- country in the world -- oh, there's a slip of the tongue.
Dave: [Laughter] Oops.
David Dylan: The reason we're the richest country in the world is precisely because we can't feed our poor. [Laughter] It's the same thing. The reason we're able to get as rich as we could is by ignoring a lot of big social problems. You can get a lot done when you have free labor. You can get a lot done when you don't provide a social safety net. You can accumulate amazing amounts of wealth when you ignore certain things.
It's not a because thing. It's because -- it's like, yeah, that's why we're so rich is because we don't have an infrastructure for dealing with Coronavirus. That's expensive. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Don't get me -- it would cost hundreds of dollars.
David Dylan: [Laughter]
Dave: No, that makes sense, I guess. Yeah, like our best friend is also our biggest -- I don't know. We don't plan ahead in that sense, but interesting.00:46:15
David Dylan: Yeah, and to get back to the reactants thing, the idea then is that we hate being told what to do and it's so particular. There's an experiment where you have a hallway. At the end of the hallway is a table with a whole bunch of candy. The experiment is, you walk down the hallway and you tell the person, "When you get to the end of the hallway, take three pieces of candy, any candy you want."
Usually, people will just pick three of their favorite candy. There are lots of different kinds of candy there, but they'll pick three of their favorite and say, "Thanks." That's the control group.
The other group is given this weirdly narrow hallway to walk down. When they get to the end of that hallway, they are more likely to pick three different pieces of candy. The theory is that that weirdly narrow hallway makes them feel constricted, like their choices are being taken away. When they get to the end of the hallway, they will show that they still have independence by picking three pieces of candy--I don't care what--three different kinds of candy no matter what. Right?
David Dylan: It is so easy to prime in us. The marketer thing is really just saying that it's so extreme that even we can't tell ourselves what to do. If you have people -- I think it's they write down either, "I will exercise today," versus "Will I exercise today?" Write it 20 times. The ones who write, "Will I exercise today?" as a question are more likely to then actually exercise or eat healthier, whatever it is.
The idea is that if you write down "I will exercise," you're telling your future self what to do. If you write down "Will I exercise?" you're giving your future-self options. Even you can't tell you what to do. [Laughter]
David Dylan: That's where it's like, hey, markers. If you want people to do stuff, give them more options, not less.
Chris: Yeah. Yeah. That's wild. Dave brought up dark patterns a little bit, which is like a company that might otherwise be somewhat reputable, dips their toes into bad things like--I don't know--you've got to call to cancel and crap like that. There are a million dark patterns. But then there's a level beyond that, which is just straight-up bad people on the Internet that are trying to--I don't know--get your passwords and phish you and spam you.
Dave: Take money from kids, like micro--
Chris: Yeah, sell you some weird pill or something that they're not even going to ship you. I wonder. Have you ever looked into that? The bad people of the Internet exploiting biases? I suppose that's a yes.
David Dylan: Yeah, and that's -- I don't cover that, really, just because it's almost like table stakes. I think we know that. I think it's worth noting that, yeah, they are taking advantage of very specific biases to get you to do things.
A lot of what scammers use, and this is an old technique, this is not new, is this notion that when you are stressed, when you are afraid, when there's a sense of urgency, you do stupid stuff. [Laughter] It's easy to get you to do something. They've done, again, experiments where it's like you have someone who has to fill out a form on a computer or something like that and you put them in this sort of stressful situation. They fill it out faster and they fill it out with very little regard for what they're actually filling out.
If I call you and say, "Hey, your credit card identity has been stolen. Can you please confirm your identity? I need the last four numbers of your social security number," this person is wracking up -- like immediately you're put in the mind of, like--
Chris: Oh, my gosh. Yeah.
David Dylan: "Oh, my god. If I don't do this right now, every second I waste, I'm losing money." Right? If I can get you into that state, then I am much more likely to be able to get information from you than if I call you up and say, like, "No big deal. Yeah, your identity has been stolen, but we've frozen all your credit cards, so everything is cool. Can you give me your social security number?" It's like, well, why am I doing that? Everything is fine. [Laughter]
Dave: Yeah, so they put you in a bottled, whatever, pressure situation.
David Dylan: Yeah. Again, it's to get you to think too quickly. That's where bias comes in.
David Dylan: I'm thinking too quickly. Therefore, I am making mistakes.
Chris: Aye yai yai yai yai.
Dave: Wow. This is all fascinating. I love this topic. It feels like the intersection of--I don't know--pop science and design and stuff, and so it's just a very cool topic.
Chris: No wonder you got so into it. I'm glad you've been able to turn it into a little career-ish for you. You know what I mean? Now it is officially because you have the book out. I hope it sells a zillion copies. But don't be too capitalistic.
David Dylan: [Laughter]
David Dylan: Yeah, and it's like the capitalist angle, honestly, and I don't go into this too much in the book, except to really think about -- there's a middle section of the book that talks about moral hazard of gameplay, which is this idea of, like, what are you incentivizing versus what is your goal, actually? You do see where, if you focus on the money, it's very easy to run into some very bad places. But if you focus on the good, then you can still -- money is still a part of the equation. It's just a question of what you're doing with it. What you're doing with it becomes the goal versus the money itself. I think that's the difference if you want to paint with a very broad brush between "good" capitalism and "bad" capitalism is, is the capital. [Laughter]
Is the end the capital or is the end, you have a society of people who are healthy and not trying to kill each other?
Dave: I think they said that in Weapons of Math Destruction, I think, and that was the first time I had heard it, like money as the incentive is not -- it creates a bad system because you're like, "Well, I'll just keep making the money go up."
In my brain I'm like, "Aren't you just supposed to make the money go up? That's how I've been living my whole life." Yeah, the other side of it is you have to look at these other factors. I think of it as you can't just measure your shoe size and buy all your clothes based on your shoe size. You have to take other measurements to get all the clothes that would fit. Yeah.
Chris: You know what they say about guys with big feet, Dave.
Chris: I got an email about it just this morning.
Dave: Yeah, I mean I just have no idea, but I just--
Dave: I'm 10.5. What does that do? [Laughter] I don't know. What's the big takeaway? What do you want people to do? Do you want people to reject their own brains? Do you want people to acknowledge their own brains? Do you want people to--I don't know--just rethink everything? What's your big goal here?00:53:05
David Dylan: What I want people to do is lean on each other and to lean on folks that they're not used to leaning on because, at the end of the day, the sort of surest route to unbiasing something, so to speak, is to introduce new biases because, like I said, you're not going to get rid of the bias overnight. That's going to take a very long time. But people need help today, so what can you do?
You can invite people to the table when you're making a decision, when you're creating the design and creating an app and you're creating a product who are not like you, ideally people who are going to be impacted by that design. You can put into place -- when I say put into place, I mean put it in the budget, do it, make it part of the estimating session, make it part of the project plan, right? Because if it doesn't exist in the budget, it doesn't exist. But put in there certain procedures like at the beginning of a project saying, "Okay, who is the project team? What identities are they bringing to the table? How is that going to impact the work? Who isn't represented here? Okay, how is that absence going to impact the work? Okay. What can we do to make sure that that doesn't impact the work poorly."
Not just think about, oh, we're going to interview the users. We're going to interview the stakeholders. Well, is there anyone who is going to be impacted by this thing you're building who aren't the users and who aren't the stakeholders? Okay, let's interview them too, right? That is another level that you can bring to it.
But I think the very concrete goal is, I want to see red team, blue team, and the sort of identity discussion start to appear on people's projects plans and people's budgets. To me, that is a very tangible process because then it's the same as saying, hey, 10, 20 years ago, doing an accessibility QA or even having that work in your SOW wasn't a thing. It just wasn't. Right?
David Dylan: Through lots and lots of things, including legislation, we're at a point now where, like, I don't know about you but my company, all of our SOWs have AA compliance. That's non-negotiable. Even if you ask for single-A compliance, it's like I don't care. We're giving you AA compliance. Right?
I worked at think company. It was an experience design firm. We were like, yeah, when we're doing our pitches it's like, "Sorry. It has to be AA." That's just how we roll, right?
David Dylan: Twenty years ago, people, "AA what now?" [Laughter] Right? That's the arc I see inclusive design taking of saying, "Okay, right now people like red team, blue team what?" I want to get to a point where, "Participatory design what?" or "People who are impacted what?" or "People who are impacted what?" I want it to be to the point where it's like, "Oh, no, no. As part of our SOW, when we research, we also look at who is going to be impacted by the thing we're building. This is table stakes. Why would you not do that?
Chris: That's great.
David Dylan: I'm not saying my book gets us there. I'm saying I hope my book starts that conversation.
Dave: You know that's good. I mean I want to build a shed in my backyard. I had to pay $500 to get a survey about my trees. You know? Maybe it's that simple. You just get a survey, like, "Okay. You're doing what now?" Okay. That's actually terrible for minority communities. Maybe it's just that simple, or something. I don't know.
David Dylan: Yeah, and again it's not like we're fumbling around in the dark here. The study of ethics has been around for 2,000 years. Folks like the IRB, which is a board that reviews any research a medical professional scientist wants to do, and they do look at things like injustice, inequality. Are you looking at the impact on vulnerable communities? They look at that stuff. If you want to do a study, they've got to say it's okay. That's one way to do it and that's one model.
But at the end of the day, I don't care particularly which route we go or routes, plural, we go to get to more ethical, less harmful design. But I do want us to agree that the goal is less harmful, more ethical design. [Laughter] Then start taking steps to get there.
Dave: Okay. Cool. That's great. That's a wonderful place, probably, to end the show here.
Chris: I heard Facebook is going to lead the charge on that.
David Dylan: [Laughter] Yeah.
David Dylan: You know what? Mark has got this. I think we can trust Mark. Let's just--
Dave: Yeah. Zuck is setting up a bitcoin to get us to get there.
David Dylan: If we can't trust Mark, who can we trust? I mean come on.
Dave: You know I said it on the last show. I can't figure out which multibillion-dollar company to trust anymore. You know? It's getting hard out there. Well, thank you, Dave, for coming on the show. For people who aren't following you, giving you money, how can they do that?
David Dylan: Sure. Honestly, if you go to daviddylanthomas.com, you can get a link to buy my book there. You can get a link to see if I can come out and give a talk where you are or workshop. You can just email me and say, "Hey, let's chat." All of that is at daviddylanthomas.com. Just head over there.
Dave: You gave a talk at Artifact Conf last year. It was one of the best talks I'd seen all year.
David Dylan: Thank you.
Dave: I can thumbs up that talk. All right, well, thank you, and we'll just wrap up the show.
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Chris, did you have anything else you'd like to say?
Chris: [Deep inhale] ShopTalkShow.com.