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How you can help your CIO adjust for inattentional blindness

21 Jun 16

Perhaps we all found Chabris and Simons’ Invisible Gorilla studies amusing: how can 50% of viewers fail to see a gorilla traipsing across a crowded scene? If you are in the 1% of folks unaware of the video, here you are

Yet in business as in the rest of life, our inattention to what is important can hurt the business, or something more serious. Recently there was a case, one that recurs thousands of times each year in the US, of an emergency medical team on site of an unfolding tragedy, and their myopic focus on a preconceived notion prevented them, and the police accompanying them, from discerning the nature of what they were seeing, with catastrophic results. 

There is nothing new about this.

In the 1840’s a Hungarian physician, Ignaz Semmelweis was working at the General Hospital in Vienna, Austria at the maternity clinic. He saw the horrifically high incidents of fever and death among both the mothers and babies, and traced it to a failure to disinfect the hands of the doctors.

Unfortunately for hundreds of thousands of women and children, ingrained notions about evil forces, vapors, and bad air caused the medical community to have a reaction against Semmelweis. 

They had inattentional blindness: despite evidence clear and irrefutable, they could not see it. In fact they did everything possible to marginalise the doctor, discredit him, and eventually drive him out of medicine entirely.

We count our blessings that the CIOs roles are not that important in the end. Usually no one dies. The challenge is that the CIO is not aware that their attention to repetitive tasks, and to what they are led to believe is important, is causing them to be blind to what could make a difference to the business.

How can you help your CIO? First of all, there has to be something in it for you. And that should not be a career ending move. Unless your company has something better than the equivalent of the OSHA Whistleblower Protection Programme, why would anyone stand up and question the Status Quo? Does your company encourage questioning? 

Can anyone with facts and goodwill challenge, respectfully, a level above them? Are the doors open? More to the point: are the ceilings open, from top to bottom, in our still-Byzantine hierarchical hell that is the modern corporation?

Let’s face it: CIOs collectively have failed to lift productivity in the world’s largest economies in the past 20 years. They haven’t contributed to a happier or wealthier workforce. Or lessened workloads. Or shortened hours. CIOs are largely prisoners of secular economic, social and technology trends.

CEOs, boards, and the CIO office itself should be continually encouraging a type of Gorbachev Glasnost: open discussion, exchange of fact-based ideas, views from customers, metrics that look at long term profitability, and broad participation is eliminating the inattentional blindness that constrains greatness in the enterprise.

Do you have programmes in place to encourage everyone to contribute ideas? Do you measure the virtue of these ideas? Do you reward the behavior? Are you threatened or exhilarated by the critiques of others? If you answered ‘yes,’ please write us and tell us more!!

Article by Michael Maoz, Gartner Blog Network

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