You know what blinders are - those black flaps put on the side of horses’ eyes to keep them focused on what’s straight ahead, undistracted by things going on around them. Blinders may keep a horse on task, but wear them yourself, and it won’t be long until your looking trouble in the eye.

Several years ago a group of Harvard psychologists showed research subjects a videotape of six basketball players passing the ball. The research subjects were assigned the task of counting the number of passes made by one of the teams. In the middle of the video one of two strange things happened. Either a tall woman with an open umbrella or a shorter woman in a gorilla suit walked through the center of the action, each visible for about five seconds. When participants were asked if they’d seen anything odd in the videos, 35% hadn’t noticed the woman and 56% hadn’t noticed the gorilla.

On the other hand, when a control group was asked to watch the video with an open attitude, they had no trouble noticing the tall woman with the umbrella or the gorilla. The phenomena of only seeing what the mind is attending to, while filtering out the rest, is referred to as inattentional blindness. It’s like going on a Google search; our brains only seek information that matches our search. I’m sure you see the obvious problem with this kind of thinking. Like horses with blinders, we find only what we go looking for as opposed to discovering new opportunities.

For example, one client organization had been sending out a seven-page confirmation letter to clients for years. Then they hired a young man to work in the mailroom; he didn’t come with company blinders called, “tradition”. He took one look at the confirmation letter and said, “These can be formatted to reduce the number of pages.” He went to the department head, explained his idea, and together they reduced the confirmation letter to four pages. This minor change saved the company over $5000 annually in postage and paper.

New hires are typically a storehouse of excellent information because they come unhindered by the blinders of those who’ve been with the organization for some time. New hires seem to have the best eye on what seems wasteful, frustrating, damaging, or that add little value. We’re baffled when leaders don’t tap into this obvious pool of rich information, making it possible to see their organization through clear eyes. Instead they settle for the cataracts of tradition.

While a removal of blinders can open you up to new opportunities, failure to do so can be costly. For example, Hal sells diagnostic equipment to physicians. To get his foot in the door, Hal would often set up an appointment to review his company’s data management software, something physicians seemed to find more readily interesting. His ultimate goal, however, was to sell his other products, specifically diagnostic self-testing equipment. During one such sales call, the physician commented that his patients were primarily concerned about the pain involved in monitoring their disease through self-testing - a perfect segue to Hal’s premier product, diagnostic equipment. Hal was so focused on data management software, he completely disregarded the physician’s comment and lost an opportunity to showcase his star product.

Fortunately, one of our consultants had been hired to spend a day going on appointments with Hal so that she could provide objective feedback that would ultimately help him better serve his clients and his company. As a result, Hal received feedback and coaching that made him much more effective on subsequent sales calls. His blinders were removed, and he was able to replace selective perception with a more acute sense of what was important to the client.

As you can see, selective perceptions, better known as blinders, can have an impact in any number of situations.
Engage in a difficult conversation with a mindset of certainty, and selective perceptions will crowd out any information that conflicts with your foregone conclusion, making win/win agreements less likely.

Promote the wrong person, and selective perceptions will protect your ego, while blinding you to that person’s inherent weaknesses. The company suffers as a result.

Become “married” to a system you helped to create, and selective perceptions will keep you from being open, able to learn from the wisdom and insight of others.

What’s the biggest blinder in your organization? How many of your company’s systems and functions are wearing blinders? How much are those blinders costing you, either directly or in opportunity cost?

A simple change can often make a huge difference in cost and your company's ability to serve the needs of your customers.

Author's Bio: 

Mary Jane Mapes, MA, CSP ( is a management consultant, executive coach, seminar leader, author, and professional speaker with The Aligned Leader Institute (