The Power of Noticing | Max H. Bazerman

Summary of: The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See
By: Max H. Bazerman


Get ready to take off your blinders and uncover the power of noticing. In this summary of ‘The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See’ by Max H. Bazerman, we’ll explore the concept of inattentional blindness and how it can lead to errors in decision-making and leadership. Learn how to overcome this blindness by developing habits that will make you a better noticer, enabling you to spot subtle details and avoid danger. We’ll delve into the Challenger disaster, motivational blindness in sports, and the art of misdirection by magicians, politicians, and salespeople, and discover how you can use the power of noticing to become a more effective leader. Embrace the extraordinary potential that lies in taking note of the seemingly ordinary, and allow it to transform your way of thinking, perceiving, and leading.

Overcoming Inattentional Blindness

Horses in busy cities wear blinders, and people can wear virtual “blinders” too. This phenomenon is called inattentional blindness, which causes us to focus so intently on one thing that we become blind to other things that might be right in front of us. This summary recounts a video experiment conducted by psychologist Ulric Neisser in the 1970s, showing how people wearing either black or white shirts passed a basketball back and forth. Most viewers failed to notice a woman dressed in black and holding an umbrella walking through the scene, a classic example of inattentional blindness. The summary goes on to emphasize the importance of the power of noticing, the ability to focus without turning a blind eye to everything else. Lastly, the summary highlights that overcoming inattentional blindness can help prevent careless mistakes and enable individuals to become successful leaders.

The Danger of Focusing on the Wrong Details

The Challenger disaster could have been prevented if engineers had paid attention to the right details. Focusing only on the failed simulations and ignoring the successful ones led to overlooking a crucial temperature condition, resulting in the death of seven crew members. This highlights the danger of paying too much attention to the wrong details, which can have serious consequences beyond harmless omissions.

Avoiding Motivational Blindness

Our self-interest can often lead us to overlook details or events that may pose a threat to us. This is called motivational blindness. It is challenging to remain neutral in a situation where our own interests may be at stake. Sports provide many examples of motivational blindness where players view opponents as more aggressive, and fans are incapable of watching a game objectively. Motivational blindness can also lead to overlooking bad behavior in pursuit of larger goals. The use of steroids in Major League Baseball from 1998 to 2001 is an excellent example of how managers and coaches ignored the dangerous and illegal practice to focus on winning. Being aware of this phenomenon is crucial in becoming an effective leader.

Curbing Motivational Blindness

Motivational blindness, a phenomenon that causes individuals to overlook risks in favor of perceived rewards, can result in significant losses that could have been avoided. J.P. Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon learned this lesson the hard way when risky, profitable trades ended up costing the company $6.2 billion in just one month. To avoid falling prey to this phenomenon, individuals should never stop asking questions and regularly evaluate the sustainability and risks of their success. Additionally, it can be helpful to set rules and follow ethical guidelines to curb bias. Auditing firms, for example, implement strict rules such as not allowing auditors to work on the same account for too long or work for a company they recently audited. By staying alert and mindful of the potential for motivational blindness, leaders can prevent costly mistakes and ensure long-term success.

The Art of Misdirection

Magicians, politicians, and salespeople are all masters of misdirection. A salesperson’s job is to persuade us to spend as much as possible and steer us away from what we truly want or need. To avoid being misdirected, approach a situation in a logical fashion. Remember your objectives, identify your objective’s most important criteria, and analyze your options. Stick to these steps to avoid making decisions you might come to regret.

The Perilous Impact of Small Mistakes

Many corporate failures stem from a series of small errors and overconfidence that create a snowball effect leading to systemic failure. Researchers have found that in 75% of fraud cases, executives manipulated data due to unchecked optimism, further highlighting how a lack of attention to small errors can lead to disastrous consequences. The analogy of the frog in a pot of boiling water highlights how gradual change can deceive us into believing everything is okay until it’s too late. This notion is particularly true for executives with a history of success, making small changes to cover up errors. Ultimately, this behavior can contribute to bloated fraud schemes. Catherine Schrand and Sarah Zechman’s research into fraud also demonstrates that companies like Tyco International, HealthSouth and Enron were no exception to the systemic failure that grew from the failure to note minor mistakes.

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