Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
Commentary
7/18/2014
06:00 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
Commentary
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

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
Previous
2 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
<<   <   Page 2 / 3   >   >>
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 5:51:04 PM
Re: Friend groups in childhood
@Michelle- Kid friend groups are fascinating aren't they? My daughter just had her birthday party. And part of me was struck by how many children there were that walked and talked and looked jsut like her. There was a point where I went up to girl to tell her to lower her voice and realized just a step away from her that it wasn't my daughter to shush. :)

On the other hand, when they all lined up to do some sort of activity I was happy to see nearly every skin tone and hair color represented. There was one girl who had to be at least 18 inches taller than my daughter despite being the same age. She certainly did attract some girls like her. But she also didn't let that stop her from finding some girls that were as different as possible. It was very gratifying.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 5:46:58 PM
Re: look alikes
@SaneIT- Yes, Tinder, specifically, has a reputation that might be a problem. I do think long-term versus short term interests change the equation. And not just in the sense that if you have short term goals you are probably less picky. :) there are probably more genetic pressures on you working in the background.

One thing you bring up here about a diverse group of friends also makes me wonder if this is something we can over ride with time based on the realities of our world. If we live in an ever increasingly diverse world, will the heuristics change because the equation of the way the world works change them? I don't know, but it seems plausible.
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 5:42:50 PM
Re: Slight Glitch in the Theory
@Lufu- That's awesome. Might I recommend contacts for her? :)

Seriously, obviously we have many examples of wonderful couples who were able to see past the obvious looks issues. It would be fun to see how genetically paired you were on the less obvious features. When the genetics tests get cheaper, maybe we can send out kits to IWeek readers and their spouses to do a bit of testing. :)
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 5:40:32 PM
Re: The face that somehow I trust
@Rich- Brilliant! You just showed us how to succeed at comments without really trying. :)
David Wagner
100%
0%
David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
7/21/2014 | 5:37:57 PM
Re: look alikes
@JonNLakeland- Definitely, though i don't know if that is nature or nurture. There's a long held theory that we trust and help people who look more like us because it helps us keep our genes alive. The closer related to us someone is, the more we want their genes to live on. It is interesitng though, because clealry our parents nurture us.
Broadway0474
0%
100%
Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 3:54:21 PM
Re: look alikes
@SaneIT, perhaps you are in the minority here in terms of this clan-ism. Of course a lot of it has to do with where you grow up. I went to school in a diverse public school system outside of a very diverse and large city. I've never none anything but difference, and my groups of friends reflect that. If you grew up in a small town, or a very segregated community, you might not even have the chance to  mix it up.
Michelle
0%
100%
Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 12:16:36 PM
Friend groups in childhood
I think this (incomplete) study might give insight to the look alike friend groups seen in middle school children. At least one of my kids has been friends with a group of other kids that shared similar traits like hair color, eye color, skin tone, and even hair length.
SaneIT
100%
0%
SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
7/21/2014 | 7:26:45 AM
Re: look alikes
Using an application like Tinder does seem like a good method since it has the mechanisms built in for matching.  I just wonder if anything changes between those looking for long term relationships vs. flings.  Looking around at my friends I can say that I've got a very diverse group around me.  I guess maybe that feeling that I don't fit into traditional groups is accurate.  I like people for their differences, I don't want to be around people just like me, I want people with different stories to tell, strengths that I don't have and little things that enrich my life.
LUFU
100%
0%
LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
7/19/2014 | 3:34:07 PM
Slight Glitch in the Theory
This helps explain why my wife and I get occasional comments about being an odd couple. I'm of northern European heritage and am 6'2", blue eyes, originally blond, and a noticeable proboscis. My wife is Japanese who is 5'1", dark black hair, brown-almost black eyes, and cute little nose that doesn't hold up eyeglasses.
soozyg
0%
100%
soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 10:31:30 PM
Re: look alikes
And test to see how many people picked similar hair color, eye color, skin tone, etc.

Yes, but that goes back to my statement about dark vs. blond hair. I would not match up with a blond person, because I would pick the dark hair. So, according to the theory, there would be no mutual attraction established.
<<   <   Page 2 / 3   >   >>
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
InformationWeek surveyed 11,662 IT pros across 30 industries about their pay, benefits, job satisfaction, outsourcing, and more. Some of the results will surprise you.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Dec. 9, 2014
Apps will make or break the tablet as a work device, but don't shortchange critical factors related to hardware, security, peripherals, and integration.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 7, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program!
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.