Wednesday, June 2, 2010

More Support of a Less Goal Oriented Approach to Life

Two days ago I posted a video interview with Stephen Fry who made the bold declaration that people should not have goals. (I would love to hear him give a commencement speech on this topic.)

Today Idea Connection posted an article that takes a scientific approach to the same theme. If you haven't done so, watch the video above first. I'll wait...

Daniel Simons, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, created this as a follow up to what is apparently a "classic video." I had not seen the original, but was tipped off to the "invisible gorilla" in advance by the article that pointed me to it. (Its title: "Invisible Gorilla Blindness.") So I did not miss the gorilla. I did, however, miss the new tricks Simons had in store.

Peter Lloyd writing at Idea Connection was fooled twice, "I'm twice convinced that we just don't see what we don't expect. It's not just difficult to see what we don't expect, we consistently see what we expect to see. In fact, it's unavoidably easy to see what we expect to see."

In a similar experiment I read about several years ago, subjects were asked to rate how lucky they were. Then they were given a task. They had to read a newspaper and count the number of times a particular word appeared. In big block lettering in the paper was a line saying "Congratulations! You have won $100, come up to the experimenter to collect your prize!"

Most of the subjects were so focused on their counting task that they did not even notice the message. There was a correlation, however, between calling yourself "lucky" and seeing the message. The self-described lucky spotted it and won. The self-described unlucky did not. The moral as I understood it was that being open to the unexpected makes you lucky.

Gordon MacKenzie wrote a wonderful little book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball. The titular “hairball” is the corporate group-think that grows in an organization over time. Corporations don’t begin as giant hairballs. They begin life as simple, effective concepts, one or two strands of the ideas that will produce success. As success builds on success, more and more strands of “things that have worked in the past” get woven together. Next thing you know, you’ve got a giant hairball.

“It is a common history of enterprises to begin in a state of naïve groping, stumble onto success, milk the success with a vengeance and, in the process, generate systems that arrogantly turn away from the source of their original success: groping,” MacKenzie wrote.

Picture Michael Douglas delivering this line: “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that groping -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Groping is right. Groping works..."

Bringing this back to the theme of Broke is Beautiful (see, I am goal oriented enough to get back to my book), I put it to you that we are often so focused on counting our money, and on amassing the material wealth and objects we think will get us to our goals that we fail to see the opportunities standing in front of us in gorilla suits.

Portions of this article were excerpted from the book Broke is Beautiful by Running Press.