Thanks to a post on Galba Bright’s Tune up your EQ blog, which mentions my post on humour in business, I am finally writing a long overdue post. Hopefully this doesn’t get too circular! Galba points to a video that appeared on Seth’s blog:

Take thirty seconds to watch the video now…Hopefully you are suitably entertained and informed.

So, what does that have to do with being productive? Simple: If you want to be productive and effective, you need to understand a little about how you see the world. Or rather, understand a little about how you don’t see the world.

Sensation – the information that comes from our senses – hearing, seeing and touching – is very fleeting. We can’t take it all in once, there is just far too much input. Even though about two thirds of our brain is given over to visual processing and related tasks, much of the sensory information from our eyes is already pre-processed and summarised before it gets there. Even then, there is still too much. This is where attention comes in.

As you discovered in that video clip, we direct our attention and limit what we see, and what we don’t. Attention is important. Attention is also directional. That means we have to pay attention, as best we can, and choose what we pay attention too.

Sometimes attention is directed automatically. For example, driving home in that little daydream that is the daily commute, when something out of the ordinary happens, your brain alerts and attracts your attention. You aren’t always that lucky though. Much of what we do with attention is either consciously controlled, or it is learnt. That means we have to work at it.

To get things done requires focus – directing attention to the task at hand. That focus needs to be on one thing at a time. Despite the illusions that speed and gadgets may bring, we don’t multi task well when it comes to taking things in. We just don’t seem to be built that way. Only by directing our senses to one thing at a time, can we take in the depth of detail we need to get things done well. If we don’t, we miss things.

One last thing on perception. Perception is constructed. We make sense of the waves of information coming at us from our senses by referring back to things we already know. What we ‘see’ is often more about what we ‘expect’ to see. Researchers have even found that they can change who we are talking to in a face to face conversation, and we don’t notice (see: Simons and Daniel (1998) and also Change Blindness)!

Think about it. I draw a square, with a triangle on top. I then add four more squares inside of the big square, and one rectangle at the bottom. Draw it out. What do you see? A house? That’s ridiculous! It is a bunch of lines. However, our brain knows, from past experience, that my drawing represents a house. It is able to add in the missing pieces.

When we are having conversations, making observations, and working things out, it is worth remembering that our brains busy filling in the blanks. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. How often do you take a bunch of lines and see a house? How often do you count the passes and miss the bear?