We don’t listen to each other at work. But wait, before you give me a bad Yelp review, hear me out. Of course we pay attention, but often it’s to the wrong stuff.

A product designer gave a presentation to his colleagues at eight a.m. on a Saturday, just hours after his audience had reveled in a late night of drinks and dinner and more drinks.

The speaker seemed to know his stuff and was well-prepared. But shortly into his presentation I noticed a guy doing a crossword puzzle. Others moved to the refreshment table and talked among themselves while the product designer was explaining an idea that he thought they should pursue. It seemed like his eyes seldom left his laptop’s screen.

At the end of his slide presentation, he looked up and asked, “What do you think?” Silence. He waited for someone to talk. No one did. So he folded up his laptop, thanked them for their time, and walked off the stage.

I’ll come back to him in a minute.

Noticing Fake Gorillas

A few years back, experimental psychologist Daniel J. Simons and his colleagues conducted a study. They asked people to watch a video of two groups passing a basketball. Their task was to count how often one team passed the ball. Not shoot, not dribble, just pass the ball.

Most participants did just fine with the counting, but many missed some other stuff going on in the video—say, a gorilla walking onto the stage carrying a parasol. Gorilla hung around for a bit and walked off. Most of the so-called observers missed this. They missed it because they weren’t looking for it. They also missed the fact that when the gorilla appeared, one player walked off the stage. And they also missed that the background curtain slowly changed colors during this activity.

How Can We Avoid This Problem?

The worldly philosopher and baseball legend Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

As a catcher, Yogi had to observe the pitcher, who would be throwing the ball at him at a speed from 80 to 100 mph. But he also needed to watch the hitters who were already on base and if they were a threat to steal. And he needed to pay attention to the positions of players on his own team. Had he limited his observations to just one of those things, he could have missed critically important information.

Back to the Saturday-morning guy. Had he looked up every once in a while, he probably would have seen that many in his audience were otherwise engaged. He could have stopped after he had made his initial pitch and asked for comments earlier in his presentation. Maybe even inserted slides to remind himself to stop and connect with the audience now and then as he went.

In my recent book, Seizing Moments of Possibility, I suggest ways that we can expand the array of things that we observe. There are only five chapters in this short book, but I devote two of them to observing—that’s how important I think it is.

If you are interested, you can get a free e-book version of Seizing Moments of Possibility from my website. Please take a look at the chapters titled “Spotting Moments of Possibility” and “Sharpening Your Focus.”

And I would love to hear how you channel your own inner Yogi Berra at work, and I’ll add some things I’ve learned over the years. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks.

New Rick Maurer book "Seizing Moments of Possibility" - Ways to Trigger Energy and Forward Momentum on Your Ideas and Plans

Seizing Moments of Possibility

Seizing Moments of Possibility: Ways to Trigger Energy and Forward Momentum on Your Ideas and Plans is my new book. I think the title explains what it is about.

The e-book version is free.

To get your copy of this free e-book, please enter your first name and e-mail address. Thanks.