The trade-off between focus, and awareness
Today’s post is from our SafeSourcing Archives.
How did you do? There are several versions of this type of video, but of course the point of them all is to illustrate our ability to miss the obvious when we are more focused on specific tasks. Perhaps you can relate to more common errors of oversight:
Have you ever been made aware after the fact, that you completely missed a detail about a project you were working on, which should have been totally obvious? Have you ever read over a document five times, only to discover a major error on the sixth read through? Stared at the same computer screen for months before noticing an assortment of buttons that could have made life easier?
Our minds have a bandwidth limitation, often described as being approximately 1.6 conversations at a time (including the one going on in your head). Focusing on one complex task, requires us to tune out certain others in order to fully process that task. One of the first researchers to call attention to this phenomenon was Dr. Marc Green, who once said “Inattentional blindness is not a mental aberration; it is the norm. Conscious perception is the abnormality”. So there are benefits to our ability to tune everything else out and focus on one task, and there are benefits to being aware of a wide scope of inputs as well. Working Memory, the type of intelligence associated with your short-term bandwidth, is uncertain as to if it is static or malleable. So how can we make the most of both sides of our concentration capabilities?
Situationally prioritize your focus – There’s a reason why they say the best way to remember names is to not focus on what you are saying when being introduced to someone new. Knowing what you know now about what you do or don’t notice and remember based on how you’re thinking, you can apply the right strategy for each situation. When you are working on detailed, technical, or financial activities, you probably need to tune everything else out and laser focus. When you are evaluating a new project, finalizing work, or observing a new environment, you probably need to tune yourself out, and take in your surroundings.
Practice “open observing” – Look at all content twice: The first time looking for whatever you were specifically trying to focus on to accomplish the task, the second time not looking for anything in particular, letting the full scope of your capabilities be your frame of reference instead of the specific thing you are being asked for.
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 “Avoiding common RFP mistakes: SafeSourcing Blog.” 2015. 15 Dec. 2015 <http://blog.safesourcing.com/2015/07/30/avoiding-common-rfp-mistakes/>
 “Visual Expert Human Factors: Inattentional Blindness …” 2002. 15 Dec. 2015 <http://www.visualexpert.com/Resources/inattentionalblindness.html>
 “Working memory definition – MedicineNet – Health and …” 2005. 15 Dec. 2015 <http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=7143>