THE CEOs CORNER
The Invisible Gorilla
If a life sized gorilla walked right across your field of vision, right in front of you, would you see it? “You bet I would,” you answer. “No one would miss something that obvious!”
You would be wrong!
In a mind blowing, now world famous psychology experiment in the late 1990’s, University of Illinois professor Daniel Simons and his collaborator, Christopher Chabris constructed an ingenious experiment. They created a video, The Monkey Business Illusion, in which they filmed two teams of college students, 3 in white shirts and 3 in black shirts, pass a basketball to other members of their team. The audience is asked to count the number of times that the players on the white team pass the ball to each other. Spoiler alert: The answer is 16.
After the video ends, the audience is asked if they saw the person in a life sized gorilla suit walk across the stage about half way through. About half the audience doesn’t. The experiment has been replicated thousands of times and it doesn’t matter who is in the audience. Men or women, high IQ or low IQ, detail oriented or creative types, young or old -- the result is always the same.
In 2010, Simons followed up, repeating the experiment in front of audiences who knew about the gorilla, but with a few changes. This time, as the gorilla comes into your field of view, a player from the black team leaves the stage and the background curtain changes color from red to gold. In this case, just 20% of the audience noticed the new changes. If you’re looking for something specific, Simons concluded, the chances are that you’ll miss something else.
I didn’t see the gorilla. I would have testified in court that it wasn’t there. And, confronted by someone telling me it was there, I would have thought them delusional. We now know the neuroscience: the brain, overwhelmed with input, selectively ignores most of what the eyes see. It’s called “inattentional blindness.”
Consider the implications for your organization. About half the time, you and members of your staff will not see things that are right in front of them. Not just abstract concepts, but real physical things. Large items. This is normal. So, what are you missing? What can you do to be sure that you miss less? That your staff misses less? How will you (or your managers) react the next time a staff member doesn’t see something that is right in front of them (if you get angry or impatient, what does that do to your culture)?
The next time you’re with a group of people, with your staff or your Board, try running the video (see the above link or google “The Monkey Business Illusion”). You’ll be amazed at what happens.
A CEO for more than 25 years, Jed Daly works with the CEOs and senior executives of more than 40 Los Angeles companies as a Vistage Chair. Vistage is the world’s leading CEO membership organization, with more than 22,000 members in 19 countries who run companies with annual revenues ranging from $1 million to over $18 billion. Mr. Daly chairs three out of the 50 Los Angeles based Vistage Boards, and will shortly be forming a fourth Board in the San Gabriel Valley. His 40 members make better decisions, become more profitable AND work less, so they can spend more time with their families, do the things they love and have better personal and professional relationships. For additional posts and content, please link here. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com