A Peek Behind the Curtain
Have you ever been curious about how magic works? Check out this video of a card trick and make sure you watch to the end to learn how the trick is done.
This video demonstrates what I love most about magic (other than the fact that most people find it pretty fun): We are always missing something, and we tend to see only what we’re looking for.
Our brains have an incredible ability to ignore information.
This phenomenon is called change blindness and it occurs when we’re paying attention to one thing so closely that we fail to notice changes to other things at which we’re looking – like the addition of a pair of glasses, or the removal of a tablecloth in the video. In some cases, people have failed to notice when the very person who asks them for directions changes to a completely different person!
We can learn two things about ourselves from change blindness and its close cousin, inattentional blindness:
- Our attention is like a narrow spotlight which can only focus on one thing at a time. Even if we’re looking right at something, if we’re not paying attention we will miss important details.
- Our senses aren’t perfect. Even when we think we’ve got everything figured out, there’s a better than good chance that we’re missing something.
Magicians are well acquainted with our selective attention and imperfect perception – we take advantage of these psychological shortcomings through misdirection.
But even when we’re not being intentionally misdirected by a clever conjuror it’s important to remember the limitations of our perceptions, and to learn to work within them.
When we forget that there’s more to the story that we’re telling ourselves, we tend to get stuck.
When we’re working towards generating solutions to our problems, getting stuck often leads us to quitting. We give up on the problem too soon when we think we’ve seen all the solutions.
It’s also easy to feel like we’ve got things all figured out in our relationships. We form snap judgments of everyone we meet, and we assume we know everything about those in our circles. This type of thinking keeps our colleagues, employees, friends and family in boxes. When we remember that we’re always missing something, we can look at the people in our lives as beings of limitless potential, and we find ourselves looking for ways to learn and grow from them.
We even get stuck in our judgments about ourselves, and what we can or can’t do. When we say with certainty “I can’t do that” we have sealed our fate. The truth is that even our self-perceptions are likely to be partial, which means we’re all more capable and more creative than we think.
How is your selective attention holding you back? What could you pay more attention to, to help you innovate, build teams, or unleash your fullest potential?