Editor's note: Susan Fader is insight navigator/qualitative researcher and strategist at Fader and Associates, a Teaneck, N.J., research firm. John Boyd is managing partner at Dyalogic, a Salt Lake City research firm.
In a 1999 experiment, psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris asked subjects to watch a video of a group of people passing a basketball back and forth and count how many passes occurred among members of the group wearing white. In the middle of the video, a person in a gorilla suit walks among the group, stands there for a moment and then walks off. When questioned later about what the video showed, most people do not remember seeing the gorilla.
How can they not see the gorilla that is directly in front of them? Well, it has to do with what you focus on. The viewers are told to focus on counting passes and, by necessity, their brains ignore other details of the situation, so they don’t “see” the gorilla. Their focus impacts their perception of reality. The gorilla is real but the reality for most viewers does not include it.
So what does the gorilla have to do with fielding a research study, developing a marketing plan or even collaborating in a team meeting? In short, we need to start seeing our gorillas – the details we are missing that may be important to our work!
In the research world, we often assume that facts are static. However, if reality is based on perceptions, then reality is not static. It is always in flux and a person’s reality is always changing. Even if our baseline assumptions about a particular dynamic are correct in one moment, things could change in an instant. Each momentary reality adjusts as each new piece of information is identified. Instead of facts alone determining reality, like the gorilla in the video, variable perceptions create reality.
In addition, as our environment changes, information degrades and disorder (or entropy) set...