Several years ago I attended a lecture on attention blindness, the basic feature of the human brain that means when we concentrate intensely on one task, we miss almost everything else happening around us. Since we cant see what we cant see, the speaker showed us a video designed to catch us in the act. Six people pass basketballs back and forth and viewers are told to count the number of tosses only between the three wearing white t-shirts, not black. Many people correctly count fifteen tosses. Yet nearly 60 percent fail to see someone in a full gorilla suit stride in among the tossers, then walk away. In some situations with a lot of peer pressure, 90 percent of an audience has missed the gorilla.
I saw the gorilla. I’m dyslexic and knew I wouldn’t be able to count tosses on the grainy, confusing video so I didn’t try. And that’s the lesson of attention blindness. Because I wasn’t focused on counting basketballs, I saw what most of my colleagues missed.
A cognitive scientist would say the experiment demonstrates a structural limitation of the human brain. But, for me, the management takeaway is that since we all see selectively but we don’t all select the same things, we can leverage the different ways we slice and dice the world. The trick, though, is we can only do this by first accepting that we each have limits: Everything we see means we’re missing something else. It’s that simple. And impossible to see. So we have to use lessons from the science of attention blindness to construct teams in a way that eliminates group think (where the group rallies around one idea oftentimes at the expense of others that may have been “blind”) and yields innovative new ideas they might be missing if they’re not actively addressing blind spots.
We all have our own limits and that’s why a team is needed to collectively see them all