Monday, February 16, 2009

Leadership and Perception

In order to get the full benefit of this blog entry, you must read and carefully perform the task described in Part One before moving on to Part Two. Following the instructions precisely is essential.  

I also want to note that this actually works best in a facilitated setting.  If you are going to do this with a group, I suggest that you find a facilitator who can help you get the full benefit of this exercise.


If you are game, read on.

Part One

Below you will find a link to a video posted by the Visual Cognition Labs. When you are ready, click on the link and play the video. Here's your assignment:
  • This very short video shows two teams who will be passing basketballs between members of their respective teams. There is a White Tee Shirt team and a Black Tee Shirt team.
  • Your task is to focus on the White Tee Shirt team and count the number of times the basketball is passed between members of the White Tee Shirt team.
  • The number of passes will be difficult to count because at least one of the passes is visually blocked by a member of the White Tee Shirt team, therefore you will have to focus carefully.
  • Play the video only once.
  • Record the number of passes you observe.
  • Here is the link
  • Go.
When you are done, you may scroll down to read Part Two.

Don't Read Ahead... 
Be sure to complete Part One before moving on to Part Two

Don't Read Ahead... 
 Be sure to complete Part One before moving on to Part Two

Part Two

If you have not completed part one. Go back to the first part of this blog entry and follow the instructions.

If you have completed Part One, you are ready to answer the following questions:

  • How many passes did you count? Answers typically range from 12 to 15. Personally, I counted 14.

  • Did you observe anything unusual during the passing of the basketballs?

  • Did you see the gorilla? Yes, there was a gorilla in the video.

  • If you didn't see the gorilla, go back and play the video again. This time you can ignore the number of passes between team members.

Based on a study performed by Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris of the Psychology Department at Harvard University, as well as studies conducted by other researchers referenced by Simons and Chabris, somewhere between half and two thirds of participants in this experiment will not see the gorilla on the first pass.

This is a phenomenon referred to "Inattentional Blindness": a failure to perceive objects that are there because our attention is focused elsewhere. Inattentional blindness occurs even when the object of interest is momentarily obscured by something of importance that would have been noticed had the observer been more generally aware.

For example, if you have ever entered a theater and been so focused on finding a seat that you did not notice one of your friends waiving to you from across the room, you experienced inattentional blindness. Your focus on the task of finding a seat obscured your ability to recognize the wave from your friend. Inattentional blindness happens when what we are looking for does not match the objects that we are seeing.

The concept of inattentional blindness does not only apply to interesting visual demonstrations like the clip you just watched. It also applies to systems, ideas, groups, and leaders.

When what we expect to see does not match what we see, we can experience inattentional blindness. When systems are set up to handle certain kinds of processes, problems, or issues, they can be blind to opportunities for improvement. When ideas are proposed that do not match what we are expecting to hear, we ignore them or are not even aware that they were expressed because of inattentional blindness. And, when leaders have a strong focus on what they want to achieve, they may miss opportunities. Their inattentional blindness may make them fail to see the gorilla in their midst.

Leaders can protect themselves from this phenomenon. Here are a few rules to live by:
  • Encourage those around you to offer their observations, ideas, and suggestions even though they may challenge the stated goal, outcomes, or norms. They may be identifying a gorilla that other team members are not seeing.
  • Step away from the action and into the balcony (see the prior blog entry on The View From the Balcony) to make sure you are seeing the whole picture, not just the part that you find most interesting.
  • Be aware that we often see what we expect to see. We can be blind to even big changes that do not match our expected reality.
Perhaps we will cover more on this topic in future blog posts.

Let me know what you thought of this exercise.