The White Shirts Experiment: What You’re Missing

As you read this, most likely you are thinking about something else, tottering between this page and your email box and wondering what you’re going to eat for your next meal.  I am doing the same, truth be told. It’s hard to concentrate on one thing these days, right? And we have a tendency to think our intuition will take us far and wide. That our intelligence will allow us to deal with the many stimuli surrounding us every minute.  When you’re in a meeting with very important people – be it clients, C-suite folks, customers, your parents or kids – you are able to ascertain the mood in the room and who’s saying and doing what. When there’s a crisis, you see most sides of it, and based on your crisis management training and PR savvy you’ll know how to respond, true? You’re in a room full of journalists and you have identified every key influencer in the room – you won’t miss a beat.

Well, you might answer “yes” or you might answer “sometimes” to the scenarios above, but one thing is true: you can’t always trust your intuition.  You are missing lots of things around you.

At a conference I’m attending this week, keynote speaker Joseph Kayne of the Imagine It! project shared with attendees of the Specialized Information Publishers Association a video.  This video features one of the most famous tests in psychology, conducted at Harvard University by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris.

If you are unaware of this video, please watch it now and then come back to this blog page.  (If you’ve seen it, scroll down to the last two paragraphs of this blog.) The challenge is to count the number of times the people in the white shirts pass the ball to each other. That’s all you have to do:

View the Video Now

Did you notice the gorilla walking across the room? At least half of the people who view this do not notice the gorilla.

The White Shirts Experiment is fascinating and enlightening.  So next time you’re at that cocktail party or in a meeting with key influencers, be on the lookout for the big, hairy, sometimes invisible 800-pound gorilla.

— Diane Schwartz