• Why we’re blind to our own blindness



    Have you ever wondered why you fail to recognize something even if it’s already right in your face? Sure. You’re even surprised why you were hoodwinked by illusionists like “The Sacred Riana,” who won the 2017 Asia’s Got Talent. You sit there and anticipate the next trick of the Indonesian-born, young illusionist, known for her creepy-like ghostlike character in and out of stage.

    We know magic tricks and illusions are not for real. But still, we’re enamored and deeply fascinated by it, in fact, every time The Sacred Riana, Kevin James, David Copperfield, David Blaine and many others perform on stage or on YouTube. After all, we want to be entertained from time to time. Often, we don’t bother to know their secret, unless one would want to become another illusionist.

    The secret behind this is what Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics Daniel Kahneman says in his 2011 book “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” He claims: “We’re blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.”

    Kahneman is not a pioneering researcher on this. He was preceded by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, who became famous for “The Invisible Gorilla Experiment” that was done in 1999, and was published into a book in 2010. The Invisible Gorilla Experiment proves that people who concentrate on one thing can easily overlook, if not ignore, another equally important situation or opportunity.

    YouTube has several versions of the experiment that demonstrates the same effect. A typical demonstration includes several students passing a basketball among themselves. The viewers are asked to count the number of times the players in white shirts pass the ball. If you will concentrate on counting you will tend to miss a person in a gorilla suit walking and beating his chest inside where the action is.

    Paul Bloom, writing for The New York Times, says in “What We Miss” (June 4, 2010) that this experiment “is a striking demonstration of the zero-sum nature of attention. When you direct your mental spotlight to the basketball passes, it leaves the rest of the world in darkness. Even when you are looking straight at the gorilla (and other experiments find that people who miss it often have their eyes fully on it) you frequently don’t see it, because it’s not what you’re looking for.

    “Other illusions discussed by Chabris and Simons concern knowledge and confidence. We tend to think that we know more than we do and that we are better than we are. We suffer from what psychologists all the “Lake Wobegon effect,” based on Gar­rison Keillor’s fictional town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.” Let’s discuss Lake Wobegon Effect in the future.

    The Invisible Gorilla Experiment explains the frailty of human nature. We concentrate more on what we have on our desk (or plate) and hope to get it over with flying colors with our respective bosses, at least as a form of wishful thinking. So we tend to unwittingly ignore other opportunities if only for us to keep our eyes on our next daily bread.

    When everyone acts and thinks like this, we are blinded by the proximity to our problems, mindless of the fact that we are losing money in the process, particularly when we are working for a corporation that is earning hundreds of millions of cash daily.

    “We’re earning a lot of money, and so why sweat the small stuff,” so says people who don’t care their corporations are losing coins in the process. Now, what if we calculate them all, say on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis? You’ll be surprised at the amount of wastes you’re sending down the drain. Benjamin Franklin was right when he said: “Beware of little expenses. A small leak can sink a great ship.”

    At times, the cliché “why sweat the small stuff” has its own value. Of course, if it’s not worth it because the stakes are small, then we’ve to let it go. But that’s assuming we know the value. What if you don’t know what you’re missing? The trouble is that many of wastes around are invisible and hidden from plain view.

    Take inventory – known in lean production as one of the evils of manufacturing.

    For an accounting manager, inventory is an asset and must be maintained. On the other hand, a kaizen manager thinks of it as a wasteful exercise, if we’re talking of millions of inventories lying in bed in our warehouse (instead of a bank), spending money for its upkeep, we are constrained to continuously pay for electricity cost, security guards, insurance premium against fire or natural calamities, and of course, we need other workers, such as inventory clerks, warehouse keeper, and so forth and so on.

    In summary, let’s not get too excited about our current endeavor. Give time to smell the flowers, so to speak.

    Take time to understand the whole situation, even in the absence of other relevant information. Ask the right question – is there a better way? And make a follow-up by asking at least five “Whys” so you can arrive at the core of the problem or opportunity.

    And if you’re in management, appoint someone to act as a devil’s advocate in every meeting and rotate the task to keep people on their toes. At first, the devil’s advocate may be unpopular, but as soon as everyone has taken the task, the team would surely appreciate the role.

    That’s why you should always look at the fine print of everything. Because the devil is in the details.

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    Join our April 11, 2018 public seminar on “A Practitioner’s Roadmap to Total Productive Maintenance” featuring Freddie Poneles, former factory executive of Unilever where he spent 37 years of his work life. Call Ricky Mendoza at (02) 846-8951 or mobile 0915-406-3039 or email inquiry@kairos.com.ph for further details


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