Tag Archive for Chabris and Simons

Are You Listening?


Have you ever noticed how, when you become aware of something, you seem to notice it everywhere? For example, it seems like every time we have purchased a car, I have suddenly seen the same car everyplace I would go, even though I hadn’t noticed it before (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons talk about the same thing in The Invisible Gorilla). Recently, I have had the same experience with an idea (rather than with a tangible object, like a car).

I had been reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, on the effect of growth vs. fixed mindsets on how people respond to life, while also spending some time in the book of Proverbs, in which several similar verses on listening to counsel had caught my attention. This was happening in the context of my first year in a new job, and the combination of these things coalesced together to remind me the value and importance of listening to wise counsel.

The book explained that a growth mindset is willing to listen and grow from adversity and challenge, while a fixed mindset does not, which has a direct impact on learning, growth, and change. The verses in Proverbs included 11:14 (“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety”), 15:22 (“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established”), and 15:31 (“The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise”). Meanwhile, in my new job, I was intentionally asking questions and listening to others who had expertise and information that I needed.

When I realized the theme idea that I was seeing everywhere – seeking counsel, listening, and being teachable – it caused me to stop and think about how well I was doing with this, and it reminded me of a particular story that took place in I Kings 12. The story describes what happened when Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became King after Solomon died.

Almost immediately after he was crowned, another man (Jeroboam) came to Rehoboam with a representative group of Israelites to ask for a change in their workload from what Solomon had demanded of them. At this point in the story, there is no indication of whether or not their complaint and this request was appropriate or valid. We only know that the question was asked, and Rehoboam’s response initially seems to be a very good one – he asks them to come back in three days, so that he can take the time to figure out the best answer. There’s lots of room for biblical wisdom in this response, like taking time to gather all the information before responding, or counting the cost before making a decision.

Then he continues to show good judgment by calling together the elders, those with experience and wisdom who knew the history and the culture, to ask their advice on what to do. Their counsel: it was a valid request, and furthermore, if he would respond in the right way, with compassion and fairness, he would earn their loyalty and trust.

That’s when he takes a wrong turn. 2 Kings 12:8 informs us that after he left that meeting, he rejected their counsel, and turned to another group, “the young men who had grown up with him,” to hear their thoughts. Sadly, their counsel was to show the people that he meant business, to put them in their place, and to make their work harder. Rehoboam listened to the foolish advice of his friends, and the result was revolt, conflict, and corruption for the next two decades.

The lesson is obvious and simple – listen to wise counsel. The danger, however, is in where you seek that counsel. Proverbs makes it clear that there is much wisdom in seeking counsel, and doing so will increase the likelihood of successful plans.   However, Proverbs 13:20 also says, “he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed,” so it does matter where that counsel comes from. You will perform better, you will be better, and you will lead better when you listen to good counsel. Therefore, be intentional about seeking counsel, and especially about seeking it from people with wisdom. Identify those people around you, people who have experience and history and cultural context and biblical wisdom, and go after their input. Ask questions, get feedback, and listen. If you do so, you will be a far better leader. Just listen and learn.


What Do You Think . . . Do everyday illusions effect your life?

According to Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in “The Invisible Gorilla,” we have a tendency to think that our mental abilities and capacities are greater than they actually are, resulting in everyday illusions that effect our lives. What do you think about that statement? Take a look at the six illusions that are listed in the review of the book here, and share an example of one of these illusions you have observed in your own experience. Please share in the comment box below.


“The Invisible Gorilla,” by Chabris and Simons

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ book, The Invisible Gorilla, originated with a research study on selective attention (watch the video here). What resulted was a thought-provoking look at several everyday illusions that affect how we think and behave. These illusions are common and persistent and difficult to change, influencing our lives on a daily basis. The predominant illusions are:

  • The illusion of attention – we experience far less of our visual and auditory world than we think we do; we often look, but fail to see, and tend to not see what we are not looking for.
  • The illusion of memory – there is a difference between what we think we remember and what we actually remember, so we tend to integrate what we do remember with what we think we should remember.
  • The illusion of confidence – we have a mistaken belief that confidence equates to competence, ability, and knowledge, and, interestingly, those who are the least skilled are likely to be disproportionately confident.
  • The illusion of knowledge – we tend to think we know more than we do, falsely equating familiarity to understanding; knowledge of “what” is not the same as knowledge of “why.”
  • The illusion of cause – we tend to infer the existence of hidden causes where they do not exist, inferring cause from events that happen in a sequence or pattern.
  • The illusion of potential – we believe that we have a vast reservoir of untapped mental ability in our brains, and simple techniques can help us unlock that potential.

According to Chabris and Simons’, these illusions tend to lead us to believe that our mental abilities and capacities are greater than they actually are, and in turn have a dramatic effect on our everyday lives. Their book is full of research tests, illustrations, and actual national/global events and stories that support their studies, but they also provide some thoughts on tools and strategies for managing those illusions. I found it to be a very interesting discussion on how our brain processes the world, and thought that it provided some provoking insight on what we think we know. But before picking up this book, you need to start by watching the video.


Chabris, C., and Simons, D. (2010). The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us. MJF Books: New York, NY.

Quotable (Dr. Jeff McMaster, on not seeing what you are not looking for)

“‘Looking is not sufficient for seeing’ (Chabris & Simons, The Invisible Gorilla), so it takes a conscious effort to see things that you are not looking for.”


Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster, You Don’t See What You Are Not Looking For

You Don’t See What You’re Not Looking For

Have you ever spent hours looking for something that you lost, only to find it sometime later in an obvious and open place? I have, and it usually causes me to mutter something like, “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before, it was right in front of me!” Don’t those experiences make you wonder why you couldn’t see it in the first place? This tendency seems to reflect an idea referred to by Chabris and Simons in The Invisible Gorilla (2010) as “the illusion of attention.”

The illusion of attention is the idea that “we experience far less of our visual world than we think we do” (p. 7). As Chabris and Simons state, “When people devote their attention to a particular area or aspect of their visual world, they tend not to notice unexpected objects, even when those unexpected objects are salient, potentially important, and appear right where they are looking” (pp. 6-7). They go on to explain that “we know how vividly we see some aspects of our world, but we are completely unaware of those aspects of our world that fall outside of that current focus of attention” (p. 7), and that “we are only aware of the unexpected objects we do notice, not the ones we have missed” (p. 37). What this all really means is that, although we believe we notice everything, especially if we are looking, we tend to miss a lot of what is right in front of us, primarily because we are not looking for that specific thing in that specific way. Therefore when I am looking for something that I have lost, without realizing it I am expecting it to look a certain way and be in a certain place, so I then overlook it when it is not in that place or it looks different than what I remember or expect; essentially, “your moment-to-moment expectations, more than the visual distinctiveness of the object, determine what you see – and what you miss” (p. 18).

The same illusion of attention takes place in the context and environment of an organization, and in ways beyond the noticing of specific physical objects. When leaders are analyzing the present culture of the organization, or planning for the future, or trying to identify issues and opportunities, it can be very easy to look around or look ahead with an unconscious expectation of what you will see; the result is that you will likely see what you are looking for but will miss what you are not looking for, and not even realize it. There may be an opportunity to tap into someone’s strength or ability, there may be an idea or a new method developing in a department, or there may be a problem that needs to be addressed, but because you are not looking for it, you miss it. And when you miss it, you may lose an opportunity or create greater difficulty.

So how do you open your eyes to see more of what you might otherwise miss? I remember a number of years ago the popularity of 3D optical illusions (also called stereograms) – pictures that looked like flat geometric patterns, but when you stared into the picture and allowed your eyes to relax and un-focus, looking beyond the flat image, a 3-dimensional image would appear. There was more to the image than the first look revealed, but it required intentional effort and a different way of looking. In the same way, when you are leading an organization, there must be intentional effort to see, and to see beyond what is in front of you or what you are expecting to see. How do you do that? First, recognize our tendency to not see what we are not looking for. Then, remove any expectations of you think you might see. After that, you can work at zooming out and zooming in – trying to step back and take a wide-angle look at everything, then looking at more specific details, then stepping back for wide-lens look again, and so on. And then you can also try to look through different eyes, by trying to see through the approach or perspective of other people or other angles.

It’s fairly easy to miss things that you are not looking for.  I’ve done it when I was trying to introduce a new change that I assumed everyone would get behind, and because of what I was therefore expecting to see (their support), I only saw the examples of support and completely missed the grumbling from those who were resisting.  You could probably guess that this eventually created difficulty in the change implementation, because I had failed to see it and address it early.  I looked, but I didn’t see because I was only looking for what I expected to see.  So remember, “looking is not sufficient for seeing” (p. 16); it takes a conscious effort to see things that you are not looking for.


Chabris, C., and Simons, D. (2010). The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us. MJF Books: New York, NY.