The Power of Noticing: A book review by Bob Morris

Power of NoticingThe Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See
Max H. Bazerman
Simon & Schuster (2014)

How and why a wider perspective (System 2 thinking) will guide you toward more effective decisions and fewer disappointments

I agree with Yogi Berra: “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

However, as Max Bazerman explains in this brilliant book, more than watching is necessary: we must also notice and then, of perhaps even greater importance, we need to have developed a mind-set that enables us to recognize what is especially significant. This is what Isaac Asimov has in mind when observing, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…'” Hence the importance of anomalies. It is impossible to connect the dots to reveal patterns, trends, causal relationships, etc. unless you know what the right “dots” are and connect them in the right way. The same is true of accumulating disparate data (viewed as pieces of a puzzle) and know how to assemble them in proper order.

As Bazerman explains, “The Power of Noticing challenges leaders to also be noticing architects. Leaders too often fail to notice that they have designed systems that encourage a misspecified goal (booked sales) rather than a more appropriate one (actual profit to the organization). I encourage all leaders to become better noticing architects and to design systems that encourage employees to notice what is truly important.” All of the great leaders throughout history were great noticers. With rare exception, they helped others to become great (or at least competent) noticers.

In the second chapter, Bazerman suggests that inattentional blindness “is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our failure to notice. Much worse — and well-documented — is the common tendency to willfully ignore inconvenient evidence of others’ unethical behavior. In Dante’s Inferno, the last and worst ring in hell is reserved for those who, in a moral crisis, preserve their neutrality. Inattentional blindness has been a problem for several centuries. Consider this observation by Thucydides: “When a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Bazerman’s coverage.

o The Broader Argument: Our Failure to Notice (Pages xix-xxi)
o From Bounded Awareness to Removing the Blinders (13-15)
o Jerry Sandusky Scandal (16-25)
o Broad Oversight (36-42)
o Implicit Blindness (50-61)
o Negotiating the Wrong Deal (78-82)
o Not Noticing on a Slippery Slope (88-92)
o Sherlock Holmes in “Silver Blaze”: The Dog That Didn’t Bark (101-109)
o Not Noticing the Ingredients of a Financial Collapse, and, It IS Too Good to Be True (126-132)
o The Market for Lemons (139-145)
o Cynicism: The Dark Side of Thinking One Step Ahead (146-150)
o Walking the Customer: “We Reward Results!”(159-162)
o Failing to Notice Predictable Surprises (171-172)
o The Power of Noticing Predictable Surprises (178-180)
o A Noticing Mind-Set (182-185)
o Nothing Is Easier for Outsiders (187-191)

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of information, insights, and counsel that Max Bazerman provides in abundance. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of his book. He concludes: “As I hope you have learned by now, focusing is important, but sometimes noticing is better — at least when you are making critical decisions. In hope that this book has provided useful guidance to help you, as a focuser, also become a first-class noticer.” I presume to add a few points of my own. First, we tend to see what we expect to see and notice little else. Also, as Thucydides suggests, we tend to embrace that with which we agree and reject that withwhich we don’t. Finally, it is extremely difficult but nonetheless possible — and perhaps imperative — to establish a culture within which noticing is not only a core competency but an embedded value.

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