A very bizarre but all too common thing happened to me just the other day…
My 9 year old son came running downstairs to find his hair spray bottle. I pointed across the room and said “it’s right over there on the kitchen desk”. He walked over, within inches of the bottle, and said: “I can’t see it. Where is it?” I was stunned. It was literally right in front of his face.
Enter the concept of “inattentional blindness”.
Simply said, most of us fail to see information that is right in front of our eyes. Why? Because we are habituated to look for things that are at the center of our attention–not the periphery. What we are looking for we see–everything else simply drops off the radar.
Check out this YouTube video and test your own capacity for inattentional blindness.
Interesting stuff! Notice what you did see or did not see. Did this surprise you?
So, you might ask: why did my son not see his hair spray bottle. Simple answer: it was a different color than the one he was thinking of. His normal spray bottle was orange; the one on the counter was blue–not the color he had in his mind.
From my experience working with students and professionals, all of us are inattentionally blind. We don’t know what we don’t know–what is often referred to at “unconscious incompetence”. We fail to see our blinds pots until something or someone places them at the center of our attention.
Discovering these blind spots is one of the world’s greatest gifts. We develop “conscious incompetence”; we now know that we do not know–and therefore liberated from our ignorance.
With this liberation comes the exercise of “agency” or “choice”. We can choose to see, learn, or acquire the needed knowledge, skills, or abilities to meet the challenges that confront us.
As a leadership theorist, this simple notion of awareness is, in my opinion, 80% of our education. The other 20% is just acquiring, practicing, and internalizing what is needed to reach a new level of development or proficiency.
For this reason I am thankful to my young son for reminding me to slow down, take in all of the data before making decisions, and look for the gaps in my own “inattentional blindness”.
Over time, seeking for both internal strategies(asking probing personal questions) and external strategies (seeking feedback from a trusted source) to identify our gaps in awareness can lead us to a more consistent path on our quest to maximize our performance and develop our long-term leadership potential.