IT’S like locating the obvious but for some reasons you can’t. How is this possible? Let me tell you my recent experience. To avoid horrendous traffic and the usual All Saints’ Day crowd, we’ve decided to visit our family mausoleum in Sta. Cruz, Laguna last October 31. It was a fun visit that started with a late 2 p.m. lunch at our favorite kamayan (bare hand eating) floating restaurant in Bay town that boasts of traditional Filipino food.
During lunch, my niece, who has an impressive academic background in science and technology, interspersed our stories with her mastery of many technical terms on geriatric medicine and patiently explaining them all with much delight.
We were impressed by how she progressed as a molecular biologist at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine. After lunch, we zoomed to Sta. Cruz, which is about a 30-minute drive from the restaurant. Luckily, the Garden of Peace Cemetery was not choked with visitors this time as we wished for. After finding a suitable parking space in a grassy lot for my old-reliable Innova, we were shocked by the news.
My 27-year old niece who, graduated with honors from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, forgot to bring the keys to our family mausoleum! How could this have happened to a young woman with an excellent memory of scientific terms and a bright future in medical research? In fact, less than two years ago, she was accepted for a three-year doctorate scholarship in a prominent Japanese university until her mother (my one and only sister) got sick, prompting her to modestly turn down the lucrative, once-in-a-lifetime offer.
We could have opted to go back to their house in Los Baños which is about a 45-minute drive from Sta. Cruz, except that we were concerned of the early evening exodus of people coming from Manila that could have wrecked our travel plans for the day. So we decided to pray and reminisced our good old days with our departed loved ones just in front of the family mausoleum, as we endured a slight dribbling rain.
Looking back, I listed down in my memory all possible pokayoke (error-proofing) solutions for this young woman so she would not to commit the same mistake. Could it be useful that the tomb’s key be attached to her car key ring instead, just like what she’s doing with her house key in Los Baños? How about requesting our relatives in Sta. Cruz to have a spare key instead? Or maybe, I should have my own key?
My goodness! Here I go again over-thinking and imposing solutions, without carefully analyzing the problem. I mean, the erring person (in this case, my niece) should be the first one to analyze the problem and propose one practical, fool-proof solution, just like what you will do with your employees. Would her solutions include burying the key at the flower boxes outside the mausoleum? I hope not.
The internet is abuzz with articles prescribing we should focus on the solutions instead of the problem. I beg to disagree. If you have not fully understood the problem and its root causes, then what kind of durable solutions can you think of? Well, it’s better to ask dumb questions than give dumb answers.
This brought me to the theory of The Monkey Business Illusion, otherwise known as the Invisible Gorilla Experiment. Before you proceed reading the rest of this article, I suggest you check the YouTube version of this 1999 experiment by Daniel James Simons, a prominent experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist. Simons is known for his work on “inattentional blindness” and “change blindness” – two examples of how people can be blinded to the most obvious.
In my case, I call it “blindness by proximity” as I refer to many operational issues by different organizations, and yet their management and their workers fail to notice them, much more to solve even one-fourth of it all.
There are many versions of the Invisible Gorilla Experiment, but you can find solace with Simons’ 2010 video featuring two groups of six young women, divided into two groups with each group wearing white shirt and the other with black. The instruction is clear and simple: Count how many times the players wearing white pass the basketball.
I will not spoil giving you the result. Find out for yourself. And while you’re at it, let me tell you of about the best-selling 2011 book titled Thinking, Fast and Slow by American-Israeli Daniel Kahneman, a prominent economist and psychologist.
Among his many interesting ideas, Kahneman talks about how we are blinded to our own blindness. It could happen to you, to me and to millions of people out there, regardless of age bracket, gender, work experience, and educational attainment. In our daily routines, as we are preoccupied by our own work that we tend to miss doing the most obvious, like taking care of our own health, for instance.
Somehow, we are being blinded to our blindness, also called as the “unknown knowns” by academic Slavoj Zizek. So, why can’t my niece and many of us, including myself, focus on the obvious? After all, our supposed primary agenda for that day was to pay respect and remember our departed loved ones.
In my case, why did I fail to remind my niece about the key? Was I confident about the scientific intellect of my niece who appeared immune from committing such a basic mistake? Maybe not. The solution may include focusing on our daily schedule even as we take on too many projects at a given time. It’s exactly how my niece complained about the tight deadline imposed by her boss to complete a project during the three-day holiday-weekend.
I’m at a loss now on what she could do to avoid misplacing her eyeglasses this time.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant on human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to [email protected] or via https://reyelbo.consulting.