A popular video floating around the Web is the "selective attention test" by Simons and Chabris. It shows a group of six basketball players, three wearing white, and three wearing black. Each group of three is passing a basketball among their group. Viewers are instructed to count the number of times the white team passes the ball. In the midst of the action, someone in a gorilla suit walks across the court. Because most viewers are focusing on the white team's basketball passing, they completely miss the gorilla. They just don't see it.
This failure to notice the obvious illustrates a phenomenon called inattentional blindness, which happens when we're so focused on one visual task that we literally don't see something else that's in plain view. It suggests the possibility that other phenomena can account for our failures to notice or take account of things that are obvious in retrospect. Here are the first two of six tips for reducing the chances of missing the obvious, emphasizing causes that apply to individuals.
- Inattentional meta-blindness
- We can What accounts for our failures to
notice or take account of things
that are obvious in retrospect?generalize inattentional blindness, which is a visual phenomenon, to the non-visual. Sometimes we become "thought blind" to events, concepts, or information that's obvious in retrospect. If we're intensely focused elsewhere, we might be unaware of the "gorilla" that just walked across the mental scene. In risk management, for example, we might plan for some risks, and miss others altogether, even when the ones we misssed are more likely. See "Ten Project Haiku:iv" for more.
- When we're engaged in observation, meta-blindness can arise from a cognitive bias known as the focusing effect, which is the tendency to place too much importance on one aspect of a situation, ignoring others that might be equally or more significant. This tendency also applies to abstract contemplation. For example, the risk of inattentional meta-blindness is high when we focus intensely on difficult subject matter, or when we're under pressure to complete complex tasks. In those circumstances, we often forget to take breaks, or we feel that we have no time for breaks. But that's just when breaks are most important. See "The Shower Effect: Sudden Insights," Point Lookout for January 25, 2006, for more.
- Not looking
- Inattentional meta-blindness is looking, but not seeing. Not looking is another matter. When we have a favored outcome, when we believe we understand a situation thoroughly, when we have preconceptions about how something came to be or how it will develop, we're less likely to look for alternative explanations or alternative predictions.
- The more certain we are that we understand what has happened, or what is happening, or what will happen, the more important it is to ask ourselves, "What if we're wrong?" Here's a quick way to do it: ask yourself, "If it turns out that I'm wrong about this, what would I have been most likely to have overlooked?"
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More articles on Project Management:
- Team Thrills
- Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience
is rare. How can we make it happen more often?
- Films Not About Project Teams: II
- Here's Part II of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to be
about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Communication Traps for Virtual Teams: II
- Communication can be problematic for any team, especially under pressure. But virtual teams face challenges
that are less common in face-to-face teams. Here's Part II of a little catalog with some recommendations.
- Scope Creep and Confirmation Bias
- As we've seen, some cognitive biases can contribute to the incidence of scope creep in projects and
other efforts. Confirmation bias, which causes us to prefer evidence that bolsters our preconceptions,
is one of these.
- Why Scope Expands: II
- The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often?
One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.