June 28, 2011

News & Opinion: The Invisible Gorilla

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:54 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Hey everyone, The Invisible Gorilla was released in paperback this month. Did you miss the hardcover last year? If you did, chances are the authors would understand. Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons' The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intentions Deceive Us addresses not only how our minds miss things we assume we would catch, but also how we behave in general (and what our assumptions are about that behavior), including driving while talking on a cell phone, being overly confident, or playing games in order to make us smart. How much do we really know about the things we think we know about? Here's an example from the book:
Think about each of the following objects and then judge your knowledge of it on the same 1 to 7 scale (of how well you know the object): a car speedometer, a zipper, a piano key, a toilet, a cylinder lock, a helicopter, and a sewing machine. Now try one more task: Pick the object that you gave the highest rating, the one you feel you best understand, and try to explain how it works. Give the kind of explanation you would give to a persistently inquisitive child - try to generate a detailed step-by-step description of how it works, and explain why it works. That is, try to come up with the causal connections between each step. If you aren't sure how two steps are causally connected, you've uncovered a gap in your knowledge.
We might think we have fundamental knowledge about many things, yet when we can't explain what causes them to work, we realize we have little useful knowledge about them. Consider this for your business. We at 800-CEO-READ might understand that we sell books and ship them from one place to another. But, do we understand what caused the customer to order the books, what reasons the publisher might have had for publishing the books, and what caused the author to write the book in the first place? Looking beyond the surface of what we "know" can reveal a lot about why we do what we do, how we do it, and where opportunities lay. The book asks questions like, "Why would a company spend billions on a product it knows will fail?", What can money managers learn from weather forecasters?" and "Do CEOs get hired and fired for the wrong reasons?" But the big one is: "Is it true that more knowledge can cause you to make worse decisions?" Certainly, more information can be helpful, but the authors argue that it can also lead to an assumption of knowing more than we actually do, which can be problematic. To wrap up this explanation of the book, check out the video the author's made. You may have seen an earlier version of this, and "know" what happens, but you may be surprised by this version. Whether you miss some details in this or not, pick up the book and change the way you think, see the world, and understand more clearly how much you really know about it.

About Dylan Schleicher

Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.