Well, maybe not all. But about 90% of all mistakes we make apparently come down to errors in perception (how we map the information we take in) rather than faulty thinking. That’s a phenomenal statistic, because it implies that by just changing how we see things we can have a profound effect on the results we get.
Phenomenal, but valid.
Have a frolic through the pages of current pop neuroscience (the divine Johah Lehrer, Gregory Berns‘ Iconoclast, Norman Doige et al) and you will come away with a clear understanding that the human brain is geared entirely around efficiency. It has to be. We input well over 100 million bits of information every single second of which we can process only a few hundred and consciously play with around 5. Yes, 5. Out of over 100 million. And that’s on a good day. So in order to make sense of it all and not short-circuit like a deranged terminated Dahlek, the brain looks for patterns and experiences to create shortcuts and filter out 99.9% of the material it’s being bombarded with. Therefore, if this large rectangle was a door yesterday, it’s likely to be a door today, and so are all those other large rectangles etc… (oops, no, this one’s actually a deflection portal to the trans-dimensional floordrobe and stenchpit my teenage son alternately hibernates and mutates in… Note to self: engagement perilous.)
In other words, according to Harvard’s Professor David Perkins, we see what we expect to see and so long as we see just enough to ‘make sense’ of it, we look no further. Why would we bother? From a biological survival point of view, this works brilliantly well. Most of the time. Except when it doesn’t, which then explains the spectacularly high failure rates in areas such as new product launches, organisational change programmes, workplace engagement and, oh yes, marriage.
I often start planning or strategy sessions by teaching participants to draw, guaranteeing that they’ll be able to create a drawing of professional standard within a few hours. To say this is met with scepticism is like saying Greece is a little bit strapped for cash at the moment. Most people “know” they can’t draw like they know that – all evidence to the contrary – Elvis really is dead. Which is unfortunate for the rationalists because within a couple of hours, not only have they achieved a professional standard in their drawings, but they’ve done some equally impressive drawings using their non-dominant hand. How?
I didn’t teach them to draw – I taught them to see. (Elvis took care of the rest.)
Not to see what they expected to see, or what they assumed was there, but what actually was there – bypassing the mental shortcuts. They changed their perception, both of their capabilities and of their subject. And the results?
Nothing short of transformative.
As you can see.