Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blind Side

We can be so focused on one thing that we fail to see something else that may even be relevant. You've probably experienced this: you only see the things, effects and evidence that confirm what you're looking for, and you only believe those people who affirm what you think. This is dangerous in business, but it happens all the time.

There's a famous experiment involving a group of people passing basketballs as they move in a circle. When I show the video, I ask people to select an individual on the screen and count how many times that person touches the basketball. I play the video. (If you've never seen it, go to the link and try the experiment on yourself before reading further. If you don't like the suspense, read ahead and spoil the effect, which will be too bad.) After it ends in a few minutes, I ask a question. Only a third of the hands go up. This is pretty comparable with Chabris' and Simons' findings. Many people ask to review the video after which they can't believe they couldn't answer the question, "How many people saw the gorilla?" A person in a gorilla suit slowly meanders into the group, turns to face the camera, stands stilll and pounds its chest, and finally slowly wanders out of the frame. We are so focused on the task of counting the basketballs that we fail to see the obvious.

Our strategy can be like that. That's why it's important to...

  • ask open-ended questions to force ourselves to explore beyond our field of vision
  • invite others to share their knowledge and experience
  • seek out different perspectives from new sources of news and information
  • ask peers about trends that they're seeing.
This is not a complete list nor fool-proof to keep us from being blind-sided in our strategies, but they will help.

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