Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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7/18/2014
06:00 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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Geekend: Familiar Faces Can Be Friendly (Or Dangerous)

Studies show we pick our friends -- and employees -- based on visible and invisible similarities.

rely on these types of heuristic judgments to make quick decisions, like whether to go left or right in a sport or when to yell and when to make a joke at a business meeting. But they can get us into serious trouble, too.

Remember those long-haired women who like floppy-eared dogs? They also think floppy-eared dogs are smarter than other dogs. More worrisome, managers tend to hire people who look just like them as well. This (admittedly old but unchallenged to my knowledge) study from the late 1990s showed that managers were far more likely to hire people of their same race and gender. We can only speculate that the same impulse (or heuristic) that makes long-haired women think floppy-eared dogs are smarter could act on them when they interview women with similar hair. The advice to not hire people "just like you" is still common in the business literature, which suggests an ongoing problem with how we hire.

It only stands to reason that if we pick dogs who look like us, and friends who look like us, we're going to pick co-workers who look like us. But obviously this is a real problem. It means a general lack of skillsets and mindsets in the work place. It is an insidious form of racism, sexism, and even ageism that prevents success.

And heck, it isn't all that much fun having these biases for friends, either. Is this what we want our friends to look like?

Or do we want friends of different types, shapes, and sizes with different ideas of fun?

Fortunately, we can overcome these types of heuristics with conscious effort. Once we know about these tendencies, we can begin to make some active choices to eliminate bias.

At the same time, as much as it's important to watch out for these tendencies in hiring and important social settings, we can also have a little fun with this. How about turning this information into an app that pairs us with friends nearby with similar genetic construction?

And it's just nice to know that we're drawn together by invisible forces that bind us without us even knowing it. We're meant to be friends with our friends. It's in our nature. That's cool.

Do your friends look like you? Do you think you might share similar genes? Would you want to know who you're predisposed to becoming friends with? Do you find yourself hiring people like you? What strategies do you use to overcome this tendency? Tell us below, and share a picture of you and your look-a-like (or not so look-a-like) friends or pets.

Also, if you're enjoying posts like this one, follow me on Twitter @GeekendDave. I post daily content similar to this piece that will help you get through your whole work week while waiting for the next Geekend.

InformationWeek's new Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage of the Internet of Things. Find out the way in which an aging workforce will drive progress on the Internet of Things, why the IoT isn't as scary as some folks seem to think, how connected machines will change the supply chain, and more. (Free registration required.)

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 10:24:03 PM
Re: look alikes
Interesting article.  I was wondering that such behavior promoted by some unknown force deep in us forces us to have such connection with our friends.  It is no wonder that people tend to hire people that look like them which then translates in creating groups of people that think alike.  I don't know if we could ever break from is pattern, the app may warned us that such things happen. 
JonNLakeland
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JonNLakeland,
User Rank: Moderator
7/18/2014 | 7:58:27 PM
Re: look alikes
Another thought - people tend to look like their parents. Children tend to trust their parents (barring something abnormal like abuse). The point being that maybe you are friends with, or hire, not people who like you - but people who look like your parents (whom you happen to also look like). 

 

Just throwing it out there as a possible "nurture" answer to the question posed.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/18/2014 | 1:26:46 PM
Re: look alikes
@soozyg- That's interesting from two perspectives. 1) You might be "attracted" to dark haired men but end up with the blond because of your brain. 2) Or it is entirely possib;e since dating requires mutual attraction, that only blond men return the attraction because of THEIR brain.

I think it would be fun to take something like Tinder where both sides have to clain attraction for them to be able to communicate and make the data anonymous. And test to see how many people picked similar hair color, eye color, skin tone, etc. I suspect it would lend a lot of data to something which by necessity has never had enough data associated with it.
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 1:21:11 PM
Re: look alikes
the brain patterns that pick this stuff out can be consciously overridden

That's an interesting point because (and this is kind of personal, but....) I have dark blond hair. I've always been attracted to dark hair on men and yet most of the relationships I've had have been with blond men.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/18/2014 | 12:47:49 PM
Re: look alikes
@soozyg- Well, impossible to say 100%. We dont know how it works. But I'd say the vast majority of why we do it is nature. And the ways to overcome it is nurture.

We pick these similarities for genetic and evolutionary reasons. You don't know, for example, what a person's immune system is like or their similarity in olfactory prowess. You might be attracted to friends because they hang out in the same place (say the candle shop) that might be a subtle clue to these things. But you don't really know. We're predisposed to want to help our "kin" for evolutionary reasons.

That said, the brain patterns that pick this stuff out can be consciously overridden. And that is nurture. So, a manager can learn to overlook it. A person can find friends of all types. And they aren't even all that hard to overcome if you are aware of them, so I'm not giving racism a free pass.

i'm saying that you need to be aware of these human tendencies and be concscious not to let them overwhelm your better judgment.
David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/18/2014 | 12:42:24 PM
Re: look alikes
@ariella- Yup. It also is something that goes into whether you will offer help to someone who needs it.

I could have picked a million examples.

One of the hard parts to separate here is that there are potentially two different things going on here. We know biologically nearly every species including our own are more likely to help people/animals that look similar because we're more likely to be related. And being related means you are helping pass your genes down the line which is the evolutionary goal.

But we also know that for things like marriage, friendship, and a few other things, you need at least some genetic differences (marrying your brother or sister is not such a great idea, for example). The immune system is another one I brought up.

So we're somewhow looking for people "just enough" like us, I guess.
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 11:40:04 AM
Re: look alikes
It only stands to reason that if we pick dogs who look like us, and friends who look like us, we're going to pick co-workers who look like us. ....It is an insidious form of racism, sexism, and even ageism that prevents success.

Interesting....so how much of this is nature vs. nurture?
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 11:00:24 AM
look alikes
It also plays a role in marriage selection ""When you have a face that looks more like you, you tend to trust it more and think it looks more cooperative," says Tony Little, a research fellow in psychology at the University of Stirling in Scotland. He is among a small group of researchers studying the role of the human face in mating choices." from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/story/2012-06-18/lookalikes-attract/55720994/1
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