I recently finished reading a great new book: The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. These two scholars conducted the famous "gorilla" video experiment several years ago. Now, they have written a book, drawing on that line of research, to examine six powerful everyday illusions that impair our decision making.
They describe, for instance, the illusion of attention: "We experience far less in our visual world than we think we do." Put simply, we often see what we expect to see... and, here's the dangerous part: we aren't well aware of the limits to our attention. Here's one great finding that they share. Researcher Peter Jacobsen found that, "Walking and biking were the least dangerous in the cities where they were done the most, and the most dangerous where they were done the least." Now why would that be? According to Chabris and Simons, expectations explain this phenomenon. In a city with lots of pedestrians and bikers, we expect to see them on the streets when we are driving our cars. Thus, we are more likely to see them. When we don't expect to see pedestrians and bikers, we are far less likely to see them.
What's the implication for business leaders? Clearly, we miss many threats to our business because they come from unexpected sources. Our attention is distorted by our pre-existing expectations. That's why we even have to be careful about decisions which we think we are making based on extensive quantitative data analysis. We have to ask ourselves: Did our expectations shape how we gathered the data, and are we seeing a conclusion or pattern in the data simply because that's what we expected or even hoped to see?