The Problem with Your Eyes

May 3rd, 2017 | Posted by:

Awhile back, I went into a store to purchase a favourite product.  My current one is nearly done, and I wanted a replacement before it was completely depleted.  I walked through the store and couldn’t find it, so when a clerk asked if I needed help, I accepted.  I asked her about the product I wanted and here is how the conversation went:

Clerk: “No, that doesn’t exist.”

Me: “Sure it does, I have one at home.”

Clerk:  “You must be mistaken. Did you get it from another retailer?”

Me: “No, I bought it here.  In fact, I bought 3 here, but the last one is nearly running out.”

Clerk: “I am sorry ma’am but we don’t have those things.  Let me show you something else though.”

Nearing the end of this conversation, I realized the clerk was new and very likely had never seen the product I spoke of. It had been awhile since I last purchased.  But what struck me was her certainty that if she hadn’t seen it, it couldn’t exist.  The reason I bring it up is because I see managers and employees coming to conclusions based on what they have “seen” or not seen all the time.  Unfortunately, the “it can only be true if I have seen it” and “I have seen it so it must be true“) philosophies are fatally flawed logic.  Here are a few more live examples:

Example 1: Work Ethic. I observed a staff member win Employee of the Year because the boss noticed she was at her desk long hours.  In fact, she was planning her wedding and didn’t have a home computer. The rest of the team picked up the slack for most of the year but never said anything because they liked her.

Example 2: Personal Branding. On many recruitment processes, a comparison of online profile or resume to interview findings reveal that the slogans, descriptors and titles can be more marketing than truth.  Certainly, there’s truth there, but it can be hard to find and rarely the whole truth once you have found it.

Example 3: Personality Conflicts.  Over and over again, I find situations where negative opinions about someone’s character colour every other innocuous interaction.  Don’t believe me? Just look at twitter during an election debate and pay attention to who says what. You will quickly notice that people who disagree with a party will dislike the candidate no matter what the candidate’s platform or statement.  If you don’t like the party, nothing they say will appeal. And if you are a party supporter, then you ignore all negative facts about them, no matter what irrefutable proof is provided.

These 3 examples bring me to another example:

The misguided idea that if it isn’t online it doesn’t exist. And if it is online, it must be true.

Before you point any fingers at young people, it isn’t just the domain of millennials because this lack of critical thinking has been present for eons.  The world was believed to be flat because average people couldn’t see the curve even though Eratosthenes had discovered its roundness (and calculated its size within 2%!!) back in ancient Greece. Scientists believed life couldn’t exist if it wasn’t like all the other life forms it had seen.  And then NASA happened across a microbe that wasn’t like any other form of life.

I wonder how many other things we are ignorant of because we simply don’t question what we see?

Anyway, this isn’t a philosophy blog, its a management blog and time for me to focus on just that.

As a leader, what are you missing just because you don’t know it exists?  What do you believe and thus always tend to see?  What do you see and thus stop looking for anything else? Which lady do you see hereLady perception?

I can’t change your perception, but I hope you, O Leader, take away 2 things from this blog:

  1. Your perception affects what you observe, and thus,
  2. Its up to you to relentlessly seek out challenges to your perceptions and opinions if you want to have a hope of “seeing” what is really there.

Its up to you because people will have a tendency of telling you what they think you want to hear.  And if you don’t deliberately throw yourself into situations where you can learn, be disagreed with and be wrong, then you risk missing what’s really out there.  It is up to you, because if you don’t drive that continual search for truth, chances are you won’t get it.