liveonearth (liveonearth) wrote,

Why We Make Mistakes

from the article:
Follow up to Blind Spots

1. Not Stopping to Think

Every time you say to yourself, “I realize now…” you are recognizing a time in the past when you had a blind spot and probably didn’t stop to think about an alternative idea.

Pitfall: Rushing under pressure – time pressure or emotional turmoil. Instead, train yourself to use that very pressure as a cue, a trigger to remind yourself to buy time to stop and think.

2. Not Knowing What We Don’t Know

Whenever you’re having trouble trying to solve a problem, you may be having difficulty because you’re assuming that something is true – but it’s not. The blind spot is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

Pitfall: Being overly certain that we are right keeps us from questioning the beliefs we hold. Whenever you’re absolutely sure that you are right, and others are totally wrong, consider the possibility that your beliefs may be at least partly in error.

3. Not Noticing

How could all the faculty, students, and staff at Texas A&M University not notice how dangerous the structure the students were building in order to have a big bonfire was becoming? In 1999, no one noticed until it was too late, when the structure collapsed killing 12 of the students who were climbing on it at the time. When something has become very familiar to us, our brain adapts to its presence and we often fail to really see what’s happening.

Pitfall: Familiarity breeds blind spots! Use strategies to help you see what you’ve been encountering in a different way. One artist I know does this literally by placing her works in progress in different areas – around a corner in a hallway, for example, so that she’ll come upon them unexpectedly and see them with fresh eyes.

4. Not Seeing Yourself

Most of us have at least a somewhat skewed picture of ourselves, different from the ways that others see us. It’s hard to be objective about our own abilities, performance, and physical appearance.

Pitfall: Not seeking the right sort of feedback from the right sort of person. It’s much easier to be open to feedback from people who are “in our corner,” and who can be objective about us, but we have to seek them out.

5. Not Seeing the Perspective of Others

When other people believe ideas that we think are ridiculous or wrong-headed, or do things that appear stupid to us, it’s hard to set aside our initial reactions and truly try to see the situation from their perspective. So overcoming this blind spot takes effort and practice.

Pitfall: Too quickly deciding that the other person is “just stupid” or “a terrible person.” It can help us overcome our blind spots if we can go “from furious to curious,” and try to understand why they acted as they did.

6. Thinking “Inside the Box”

Engineers couldn’t find any use for the material that we know today as Silly Putty. They were looking at this material as an “industrial product.” That was the box, the category in which they had classified it.

Pitfall: Failing to shift lenses so that we look at the world in terms of multiple categories. So often we fail to get the perspective of others who think differently, or are less experienced – yet these are the very people who are likely to see outside of the box.

7. Jumping to Conclusions

“That will never work,” a colleague says after we’ve barely begun to describe our idea. Ask the person to tell you all their reasons why “that will never work,” because that way you can see where the flaws in their reasoning might be. For example, they may be making unwarranted assumptions that you can then point out.

Pitfall: Failing to examine the reasons – or the reasoning – that underlie our conclusions. Whenever we decide something quickly, it’s a good idea to step back and take a closer look at the reasons that our decision is based on.

8. Not Evaluating Evidence

What evidence supports the claims we, or others, are making? How solid is that evidence?

Pitfall: We often fail to look for counterevidence or counterexamples – this is the bias we all have to seek only confirming evidence or information. Instead, we need to actively search for possible counterevidence.

9. Missing Hidden Causes

In today’s economic times, it’s easy to explain everything in terms of the economy. For example, a business may automatically attribute its poor sales to the economy, and a job seeker might automatically attribute her problems finding work to the economy. When causes are vivid and obvious – like an economic downturn – we can easily miss more hidden causes. For example, maybe there are ways that the company’s product line needs to be improved; maybe the job seeker is restricting her own opportunities because she is limiting the industries or the locations she’s exploring.

Pitfall: Failing to say to ourselves, “Well, let’s assume X is not the cause – or at least not the only cause – then what other factors might be contributing to this problem?

10. Missing the Big Picture

One company lamented that its employees seemed very hesitant to take any risks. Yet the company motto was posted everywhere on its walls, “Nothing Less Than Perfection Is Acceptable.” Given this pressure from “the system,” how many employees would take risks?

Pitfall: Failing to ask the simple question, “How is the larger system contributing to the problem we are trying to solve?”

The book Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things is organized around ten common blind spots, focusing a chapter on each blind spot.
Madeleine L. Van Hecke is author of Blind Spots and Co-author of The Brain Advantage
Tags: belief, creativity, intelligence, mistakes, science, self improvement, time

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