Developer Tea

Changing Work Environments and Availability Bias

Episode Summary

Huge transitions are happening for most people right now. As this occurs, our environments will change. Partially as a result of the availability bias, we'll also see peoples' behaviors and thought patterns will also change. We'll talk about how this bias works in today's episode.

Episode Notes

Huge transitions are happening for most people right now. As this occurs, our environments will change. Partially as a result of the availability bias, we'll also see peoples' behaviors and thought patterns will also change. We'll talk about how this bias works in today's episode.

✨ Sponsor: LaunchDarkly

Today's episode is sponsored by LaunchDarkly. LaunchDarkly is today’s leading feature management platform, empowering your teams to safely deliver and control software through feature flags. By separating code deployments from feature releases, you can deploy faster, reduce risk, and rest easy.

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Episode Transcription

To start things off today, I want to play a little game. I want you to mentally or even out loud as long as other people are not looking at you strangely. To answer the following questions as quickly and intuitively as possible. The first question is, name a brand of computer. The second question, name a make or a model of a car. The third question, name the color of a piece of clothing. If you're like most people, those three things that you named, you have come into contact with very recently. Maybe you're looking at somebody with that piece of clothing on that's blue, or maybe you own like I do an Apple computer, or maybe you just saw a commercial about one. Maybe it's possible that the car make a model that you listed was something that you own yourself, or maybe you just read an article about Tesla today. For whatever reason, it's likely that you came into contact with those three things. Of course that doesn't mean that it's impossible for you to have recalled something that you haven't come into contact with. But when your brain is given this task, it fills in the blanks with things that it believes are relevant. And relevance is a very hairy topic when it comes to our brains. That's what we're talking about in today's episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea, my goal on this show is to help driven developers like you find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. This is the second part of a discussion we started last week about this big transition. I see you transition, we are all making at the end of a global pandemic. Things are changing in the workplace for virtually everyone. No pun intended, there's a lot of new virtual workplaces, for example. And there are people who are in mass returning to an office environment. So a lot of things are in flux. We talked about this in that episode, we talked about the fact that because we are changing our observations on other people, whether we're going from a remote to an in person environment, for example, where we're changing our observations on those people, or maybe we are, you know, the observations are changing in our own homes. All of this is going to change our behaviors because we know that observation changes behavior. But there is more to it than just the interactions that we have with other people. The place is where we are and the daily activities that we've taken. All of these things are about to change. And those changes, the environmental changes, all of those cues that we have around us, that's going to change the way that we think at a fundamental level. One of the reason for this is the availability heuristic. And that's what's responsible for you naming those three fairly predictable things that you named at the beginning of the episode, unless, by the way, there is a little caveat. It's possible that you chose to name things that were obscure on purpose. But that's not the natural choice, right? Our natural choice is going to be to pull from things that are most recently encountered. I'll give you a perfect example of this that is probably played out for virtually everyone who's listening to this episode right now over the last year. If you heard somebody cough in the past, especially in the past, say, eight months or so, it's likely that the first thing that came to mind was the coronavirus. Not because, necessarily, you thought that person had it for sure, but because it was top of mind. Now, let's imagine that it's early 2020 and someone coughs. And because the coronavirus wasn't around or because you hadn't really heard about it, it would be the last thing on your mind to imagine that some obscure new virus is the underlying cause for this cough, even though it's certainly as possible that that was the case. And this particular example is a good illustration of why the availability heuristic exists in the first place. That is, our brains are trying to provide us with relevant information. The coronavirus is relevant. It happens to be a pretty good model of something that wasn't relevant and then became relevant and our brains are responding to that relevance. But there is an important distinction that we need to make about how our brains understand relevance. As a simple example, we can take a relatively rare event. Let's say something that happens to one and a million people will make this particular one positive like winning the lottery. And we see a news story about, let's say, three people who win the lottery in our hometown. Now, instead of doing full-on calculations, our brain intuitively may believe that we are close. And when I say close, I mean, in some kind of physical proximity to something good, we're close to winning the lottery ourselves. People who live in that particular town are more likely, probably, because of the availability of the statistic to go and buy a lottery ticket. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding why those people won the lottery. It's possible, for example, that there are three million people in town and three out of three million actually lines up statistically. But we say this on the show quite often and we'll say it again in this episode, our brains are optimized for making sense out of the world around us. And we have not really evolved to understand the gap, specifically the distance gap between us and some media. When I say media, for example, right now you're hearing this, you're hearing this podcast, you can live around the world and hear this podcast. And it's very difficult for your brain to rationalize the idea that I might be thousands of miles away from you. Additionally, it's very hard for us to rationalize the idea that I'm recording this, possibly two weeks before you hear it. Of course, we can think through these things. It's not like anybody's rejecting these truths as facts. But our availability heuristic is primed to imagine that all the sensory input that we are receiving nearby is actually originating from a nearby source. And that means inherently that it's relevant. It's relevant because it's happening close to me. Our brains do not have the evolved understanding of a filtered context yet. So this is very important. It's very important for our behaviors because we can recognize that virtually all of our experiences are filtered. And so what our brain believes is relevant in our experiences, we might have to moderate with some slower thinking, some more intentional thinking. So how does this affect us as we go through this transition? How does this affect us as we change our workplaces as we move into this different phase of observation of each other? We're going to talk about that today after we talk about today's sponsor. Today's episode is sponsored by Launch Darkly. Launch Darkly is today's leading feature management platform, empowering your teams to safely deliver and control software through feature flags. By separating code deployments from feature releases, you can deploy faster, reduce risk, and rest easy. And you don't have to go and engineer those feature flags yourself. If anybody is listening to this and you try that, you know that that is something that is very ridden with bugs very often. So don't build your own, your own feature flags. Whether you're an established enterprise like Intuit or a small business like Glowforge, thousands of companies of all sizes have relied on Launch Darkly already to control their entire feature lifecycle and avoid anxiety fueled sleepless nights. Why would you have an anxiety fueled sleepless night? Well, if you've ever launched code into the dark, if you've ever launched code without really having a chance to make sure that it's working in production, you know that things can go wrong. Things that you never expected to go wrong can go wrong and they can go wrong at midnight. Well after you have actually launched the code, not everything is going to be caught right away. It could be caught at midnight. It could be caught three days later. Takes time sometimes for these bugs to show up, right? If you want to make releases news fast and start deploying more frequently and securely with less stress, head over to launch For example, IBM, they went from deploying twice a week. Right? That's pretty good. So over 100 times a day. That's a time. That's a lot. If they have enough resources to deploy 100 times a day, then two times a week is certainly not enough. We've been able to roll out new features at a pace that would have been unheard of a couple of years ago, said IBM's Kubernetes delivery lead, Michael McKay. Go over to launch to check it out. That's launch Thanks again to launch darkly for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So our brains are deciding what is relevant to us. And our brains are creating context and connecting places and experiences with meaning. Our brains are since making machines. We say this all the time on the show. We make sense of the world. We connect experiences with places. We connect experiences with people. And we hang on those recent experiences to inform our present understanding. This is the prevailing reason why the availability heuristic, the availability bias, is such an important piece of the puzzle. Not to be confused, by the way, with the availability bias in research publication, which very short synopsis of what that is. Availability would be choosing participants that are easy to find or that are nearby. That in and of itself is a selection mechanism. That's not what we're talking about. But it is in some ways it's related. Because we have selected something in our brains that is nearby, that's available, that's convenient, that's in mind. The selection that we do is necessarily going to be biased. And necessarily biased because it's the things that we have been exposed to. And so because we very often we expose ourselves to the same things over and over and over, we can create echo chambers with this. This is kind of maybe the early reasoning why you might create an echo chamber or a monoculture, all of those things that we hear about that are reduction in diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of background, diversity of ethnicity. A lot of this can actually start at this availability heuristic. So it's important to be aware of. Why is it important as we move back into the workplace or as we transition from one state to another as we're all going through this major transition out of a global pandemic? Because our context has been so different. A lot of our availability heuristic things are going to change. For example, if you have worked from home, you have developed associations with your working environment at home that are going to change if you're going back to an office, for example. Right? You're going to associate your home with work even when you come home. You might have to do a little bit of work to disassociate those things. To explicitly rewrite that. Maybe something as simple as moving some furniture around. Right? To create a slight change in that environment that triggers your brain to re-associate new experiences and to leave those old experiences behind. Another very important example of this is who you are going to be around on a daily basis. For example, the company that my wife works for is in an earlier phase of the company history. They're more in startup phase than the company that I work for. When I'm around my wife every day, I get a lot of this early company energy that just because of the availability heuristic, I hear the conversation is happening when she's on meetings. I have a different mindset than I would have if I wasn't around my wife all day every day. This is one of the many well researched reasons why your environment matters so much, why the people you surround yourself matters. Surround yourself with matters so much and how you can affect the people that you're around and you can affect your environment as well. The availability heuristic is strong for you and it's strong for others. Remember that the things that you talk about to your team members are going to be top of mind for them whenever they encounter you again and perhaps when they encounter other people. Your influence is important as you transition especially if you're in some leadership position and it's especially important to remember that other people's availability heuristics are going to drive them to act differently than you may have remembered them acting before. Their world is changing and their behavior will change as well. Very similar to the last episode, a lot of this is about recognizing that change is coming and these are the roots, the core causes of some of that change. We shouldn't necessarily resist the change itself. We should recognize that it's coming and then also we can look for things that might be out of balance. We might want to design this transition a little bit more appropriately and intentionally knowing that part of the reason that we are going to experience change is this availability heuristic. For example, we're going to hear less about coronavirus and so we will have fewer conversations about coronavirus. We might realize that some of our relationships have kind of atrophied because we don't have substance to talk about anymore beyond the virus. Because we begin to transition our language, some of those things that we otherwise would have talked about that made for good small talk, we might find ourselves at a loss for words. It might feel a little bit empty or a little bit like there isn't a shared experience anymore. These are the kinds of things that we're in. Because our surrounding environment, the context that we're in is going to change and therefore our behaviors are going to change. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to launch Darkly for sponsoring this episode. If you want to launch your code separate from your feature releases, in other words, you can release your features after your code once you've made sure that everything's working right. Head over to and you can make your releases newsfest. That's Thank you so much for listening to this episode. If you would like to have more discussions like this beyond the episode, if you want to discuss what we talked about in this episode of the show, you can join our Discord community. Head over to slash discord to join that community today. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.