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Are You Caught in an Echo Chamber?

August 8, 2017
Escape the Echo Chamber - Aartrijk

By Jay Morris

Have you ever been in a large room or somewhere outdoors where every word you say is repeated back? Such echo chambers are an amusing diversion, especially for kids who delight in hearing the same words over and over. But when it comes to news and social media, echo chambers can have a polarizing effect on the way we receive information and perceive the world.

You would think platforms like Facebook and Twitter might facilitate dialogue and the dissemination of diverse viewpoints. After all, that was the promise of the internet — a digital marketplace of ideas for everyone to access and share. Instead, sociologists are finding that we increasingly view the world through echo chambers, consuming content that has been filtered to reflect our own positions and opinions.

This echo chamber effect is contributing to greater divisiveness in our politics, stifling national debate and leading to more extreme views. Now a new survey from Ketchum and Fast Company shows that echo chambers are also impeding creativity in organizations.

The Ketchum/Fast Company survey of 500 creative professionals found that despite their organizations’ expressed desire for fresh ideas and new perspectives, most respondents felt they worked in creative echo chambers. Ideas, inspiration and affirmation routinely came from the same place — like-minded colleagues — and unconscious bias and homogeny of thought stifled originality.

Echo chambers exist in all organizations, not just creative shops. Insurance firms are just as likely to suffer from groupthink, where decisions are based on conversations with like-minded peers and supported by evidence that aligns with one’s own beliefs.

So how do we eliminate these echo chambers?

The Ketchum/Fast Company survey gives some pointers for moving forward. Respondents overwhelmingly favored fostering diverse thinking in their organizations. They emphasized hiring outside of the usual networks and industries, actively changing the work culture, and prioritizing recruitment of those with varied backgrounds and skills.

“The survey respondents see that working alongside people just like themselves limits creative potential, and to get outside our bubbles, we have to build teams from varying socioeconomic, educational and geographic backgrounds,” said Fast Company Editor Robert Safian.

Specific suggestions from survey respondents included:

  • Make diversity hiring goals more explicit.
  • End nepotism, cronyism and referral-based hiring.
  • Hire for curiosity over experience.
  • Hire from outside the industry.
  • Recruit internationally.
  • Eliminate insider jargon from employment ads.
  • Increase blind hiring practices.

One of the trade groups I do work for, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, has made promoting diversity a strategic goal. This spring, it held its first Diversity Symposium to bring together industry thought leaders to help create a diverse agent and adviser workforce. The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America has a Diversity Task Force and is fostering awareness and cooperation in this area, too.

We all need to work together to remove the echo chambers in our organizations and embrace more inclusive thinking. Our economic future depends on both serving diverse markets and recruiting new blood from diverse backgrounds. It’s good business, but it also breaks down barriers and sparks creativity and innovation.

So the next time you’re sitting in a meeting, look around the room. If it’s the same familiar faces, invite someone new to join the discussion. You don’t need to hear your own voice over and over. Seek out new perspectives. You might just learn something, and in the process change your company.

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