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THE INVISIBLE GORILLA (Unplugged)
A conversation between Christopher Chabris & Moe Abdou

www.33voices.com The Invisible Gorilla (Unplugged)

Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

About Christopher Chabris & Moe Abdou Christopher Chabris Christopher Chabris is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York. He is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Neurology at Albany Medical College, a Research Economist at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moe Abdou Moe Abdou is the creator of 33voices — a global conversation about things that matter in business and in life. moe@33voices.com

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Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

It’s very fascinating and I’m sure it’s something that is just evolving for you guys. Yeah, it’s very gratifying to see the good reviews and to see the response and especially to hear from people who have — when people say things like, I look at X in a whole different way now. Or, I see things differently now or whatever. That’s especially what we were hoping to hear. We’re not out to change the world. We were hoping that people would really have a response where they see themselves in some of the stories and they see their own behavior in some of the experiments and so on and they think about it a little bit. I’ll tell you, maybe you can change the world a little bit because you make some pretty compelling points. Thank you. What I’d like to do is just for the time that we have together, I really like to be able to tackle a lot of these illusions. I have to tell you, I did see the Gorilla a few years ago. I used this experiment. I used to a run a wealth management firm in the Washington D.C. area. I had a significant number of advisors. I really used it to show them your exact point; that a lot of times, we miss what’s right in front of us whether it’s serving our clients or making investment decisions or financial decisions in general. Obviously with the book, you take it to a completely different level. Ever since reading it, I notice just in walking through my gym this morning, you encounter these things all the time. People just walk by you. You say hello to somebody and they don’t even recognize that you’re there although you’re friends with them. Ironically enough, knowing that you and I are going to speak this morning, I’ve been very attentive and it happened twice. Well it may happen just as often when you’re not out there looking for them. I bet. It’s really been interesting. Chris, what has been most surprising to you guys since this book has come out - and since people have … at least the ones who have embraced it the way we have? I’m starting to think differently. What’s been surprising to you guys about the outcome? I wish had a great answer I could just throw right out at you. I think one thing that has been surprising and gratifying is the number of people who have responded and said, this is really important stuff and this is stuff that happens all the time. When we wrote the book, we really had no idea what the
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Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

response was going to be. We thought it might go out there and maybe get a few reviews and that would be it. Of course, nowadays with things like Twitter and Facebook, and so on, you can sort of pay attention to what people are saying. It’s been sort of that in that sense, surprising that this sat with people and rseems to be saying something about their everyday lives and what happens in decisions they make all the time. I think it’s one of the things, I think it’s a different kind of self help book if people would even consider it that. In keeping with your prize, it certainly makes you entertain but at the same time, it definitely makes you think.
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That’s good. That’s what we’re really going for. I was hoping we wouldn’t be placed in the self-help category because a lot of self-help books of course are not really based on research and not really based on solid scientific findings. That’s one thing we did try to do is we always tried to pair up stories with experiments and studies and data to back them up. But maybe instead of a self-help book maybe it’s more like a self awareness book. It’s sort of learning more about how your own minds work and how the minds of other people work and just learning to pay attention to things about your own behavior and your own thoughts that you weren’t paying attention to before. I love that. In fact, I just wrote it down, self-awareness book. Maybe invent a new category there. I love your writing style. I have to ask a question that many people probably have asked you. Why is it so difficult or why, as human beings, we have difficulty or resistance towards truly trying to understand who we are as people and maybe just starting to understand ourselves as individuals? It’s not easy. The main reason I think is that our minds and brains did not evolve for the purpose of understanding themselves. The mind and brain evolved for purposes of promoting the reproduction of our genes. That doesn’t necessarily require understanding how your own mind and brain or body works for that matter. You could equally ask how come we have such a poor understanding of how our hearts work and why do we eat foods that cause heart disease? Probably because the evolutionary design of the mind and the digestive system and so on was not setup to optimize longevity and minimize heart disease and so on.

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Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

What’s going on nowadays especially is somewhat of a mismatch between the environment that our brains and minds evolved to succeed in the present environment that we live in. So to take a simple example, during the time when our minds were evolving, most things around us didn’t move very fast and we didn’t move very fast ourselves. Nowadays, we can travel at incredibly high speeds. In a car, you’re routinely going 60, 65, 70, 75 miles an hour. If you fly in an airplane, you’re going a lot faster than that. Our visual systems weren’t necessarily designed to be able to detect things with extreme rapidity at those speeds and our system for paying attention was designed to focus on a few things or one task that we want to pay attention to and devote extra effort to and not notice what else is going on. That’s not much of a problem when things don’t change in your environment that fast and there is not a lot of information, not a lot of stimuli, not a lot of signals to pay attention to. Nowadays, we look at CNBC, we got a hundred numbers on the screen at once on CNBC. That’s not the visual environment our minds evolved in. So this mismatch is growing and I think that’s part of the source of a lot of the problems that we talk about in a way the source of these illusions. Chris, is that maybe why we’re starting to see perhaps a shift in trying to understand more Eastern philosophies of consciousness and trying to be in the moment and more presence. I assume that people are starting to understand that that’s going to play a significant role if we’re going to evolve as individuals the way we want to. I don’t know that much about Eastern philosophy, Eastern spirituality and so on myself. So I don’t want to pretend I’m an expert on that. But I think it is possible that the growing interest in different philosophies, different ways of thinking about the mind and about behavior and consciousness and so on, may have something to do with the growing sort of disconnect between the way the mind is designed which was for a time period, thousands, tens of thousands, or even millions of years ago and our present circumstances. That said, I don’t know that turning to Eastern or any other kind of philosophies or spiritualism is really going to help solve that problem because in our view, what we’re dealing with here are fundamental aspects of the architecture of the mind and those things can’t be change easily. True, the brain has plasticity and it’s possible for us to learn skills to a high degree of effectiveness. But wholesale lifting of inherent limits like the fact that when we pay attention to one thing or one area, we don’t notice what’s going on in other places or in
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other events. Or, the fact that our memories are not perfect records of our experiences that instead, they’re records of meaning and emotion and they have goals to satisfy and so on. I mean a wholesale changing of those things would require redesigning the brain and that doesn’t happen except on the scale of millions of years or longer. I totally agree. In fact, when I started to think about your analogy in the first chapter about intentional blindness, one of the first things that I equate it to is when I hear the term that an athlete is in the zone. Basically, it’s them and the ball or them in the hoop and they see or hear nothing around them. Then I started to think, is that good or bad? Maybe it’s good for the moment but how much do we want to be in that zone if we’re dealing with it from a personal perspective or a business perspective. Being in the zone for an athlete, I think is related to the psychological state that some psychologists call flow. Where you are extremely focused and you’re performing optimally and there is even sort of a pleasurable sensation to all the suffering. Normally, we associate effort not with pleasure but with pain or at least it’s something to avoid. But, when you’re in that state where you’re paying attention and it’s enjoyable and you’re really high achieving and so on, in that sense it’s good that you’re shutting out other stimuli and you’re not paying attention to all these other things. Perhaps it’s a tradeoff. It’s a necessary tradeoff. You need to be able to close out those other stimuli in order to increase your attention to this optimal state. I don’t know personally because I’m not an expert on flow and sport psychology and so on. Would we want to sacrifice the ability to do that for an increased noticing of unexpected events let’s say. Or, things we’re not paying attention to. I’m sure about that tradeoff. It might turn out to be a bad trade still. But being aware of the fact that when you get into that state, or even when you’re just paying attention to one thing like talking on a cellphone while you’re driving, that your attention for unexpected events in your visual field as well, you’re just being aware of that and help you change your behavior and change your practices and change your environment even. Take the cellphone charger out of the car, zip the cellphone up and put it on the backseat or something like that rather than run the risk of really seriously increasing your chances of getting into an accident in that case. I have to tell you, Oprah started to get on the path of convincing me but without a doubt, when I read your book, I was convinced because my wife and kids have been after me for awhile to stay off the phone while driving. It’s pretty clear now that there is no question that it has impact.
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I am glad to hear you say that we were more convincing than Oprah. You made a strong enough point for me to say, you know what, it’s not worth it. Now what we need to do is get our own TV show and we’ll really be the rock stars. You are definitely on your way to rock star status because I’m sure this is the beginning of a lot of things. One of the things that happens a lot of times, Chris as you know and certainly as I have experienced in my life is when people have an opportunity to be exposed to compelling books like that. One of the greatest passions that I have as an individual is between the time somebody puts its down because they finished it and the time they pickup the next book, we want to try to keep those ideas moving. We want to give them almost the how-to, take what you learn, take the key points that you learn and apply them in your life to kind of see better results. So if we take the attention piece for example, what’s the greatest piece of advice that you can give to people out there to be more attentive or to minimize the chance of them having to deal with this blindness issue? I can’t say anything that will make people more attentive. I mean, one thing we did find out in which people asked us about a lot of the time, is that in our gorilla experiment where people don’t notice a gorilla walking through, I’ll pick people, a crowd of people passing basketballs around. People will always say who notices the gorilla and who doesn’t? The answer is we don’t really know anything that differentiates the noticers from the missers. If I did know of something that could differentiate the noticers from the missers maybe I could teach the missers to do what the noticers are doing; to somehow be more attentive or more open to those unexpected events or objects. But we don’t really know what are the differences. As far as we know, it’s luck circumstance on something but the mental state you just happen to find yourself in at that moment when you’re doing the experiment. So I can’t really say anything that will help people become more attentive but I think the number one piece of advice would be know about the fact that you are noticing and paying attention to the less of your world than you think you are. When you have an important decision to make, think about perhaps what you’re not thinking of. Think about the information you don’t have or the information you’re not paying attention to or think about whether you’re being distracted right now and whether you’re not devoting your full attention to it.

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One thing I like to do sometimes, some people think this is a bad habit but I’m not sure it is that bad. I like to put off important decisions. I’m not sure that I do it consciously because I know that I might be distracted. I might need to think again and think twice but maybe I’m just a procrastinator. It does have some benefits to come back and think again a second time when you’re not in a hurry, when you can give it more attention, when perhaps you had a chance to think about it in between and so on. So don’t be in such a rush is another great piece of advice. You can’t think twice if you don’t have the time to think twice. That might be some of what I would advice. I think that’s fabulous advice. I want to jump around here a little bit because one of the most intriguing things for me was I think it was chapter 6 when we started talking about potential. The big take away for me there was when you referenced Mozart and train the brains and so forth. We all I guess have heard and we all understand that there is a lot of untapped potential inside of us. It’s difficult sometimes Chris, for people to realize that because of the clutter that goes on in our mind sometimes. For us to recognize we all have tremendous abilities and each one of us has untapped potential. What’s the starting point for people to understand if they want to make that shift and really start to tackle some of this untapped potential that they can work towards? The starting point as far as we’re concerned is to realize yes there is untapped potential. Pretty much everybody has extraordinary capacities to increase their abilities. But it’s not a kind of potential that can be easily and trivially released by doing something like listening to more classical music or by playing brain training games or by listening to subliminal tapes while you sleep or something like that. Also, it’s not a generic or a general form of potential. So it’s not that easy to just make yourself generally smarter or make your memory generally better or make your visual acuity generally better except of course by putting on the right glasses or contact lenses that will do it for vision. But there is no such thing as glasses or contact lenses for memory in general or for intelligence in general. What there is, is the ability to learn particular skills to a high degree of expertise. So an example we talked about in the book is most people can only remember about six or seven random numbers, single digit numbers longer than a few seconds, for as long as a few seconds. After that, if you try to keep them to remember nine they will remember them all. But, in a famous study, in individuals who are able to train themselves to remember I believe 88 random digits, sets as long as that. That’s a huge increase. That’s about a factor of 12
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more than he was able to do at the beginning. But when they tested him for his ability to remember random sequences of letters, after he had increased his digit span to 88, his letter span was still only six or seven. What it was in the beginning. So learning and the plasticity that his brain was capable of were specific to this kind of material he was learning with. Remember in string of numbers, it didn’t make him better at remembering letters; it didn’t make him better at calculating the tip or anything like that. It’s hard to really sort of produce these general improvements but it’s possible to learn specific skills and learning to a really high degree of expertise. My advice is you throw out the idea that you’re just going to sort of magically become smarter overnight and think about what you really want to do well and then work on training yourself to do it and you actually probably can. Chris, what about failure and adversity? How does that impact our illusions? When we have bad days or when a business venture or a relationship goes south, does that increase our illusions? What happens when our brain kind of stays with those very challenging things to deal with. This is not necessarily an area that I’m an expert in but one thing that our brains are very good at is coming up with reasons why things happen. So let’s say we have a business failure. Some business venture doesn’t go well like you said. One thing we probably try to do is figure out the causes of that. One thing our brains are very good at is basically jumping to conclusions, sort of picking up on associations in our environment or things that happen in sequence. For example, maybe something happened and then business started going downhill and so you assume that that thing that happened was the cause of the business going downhill. You focus in on that. You start to think that’s the single reason. That might not necessarily be true. Most of the time, there are multiple causes for things that happen in our lives or in work and business and so on. But we’re not very good at appreciating that all those causes kind of interrelate. In the book, we have an example of Chris Matthews, the political commentator who has the show Hardball on TV. We noticed that he tends to ask his guests, or did tend to ask his guests over and over again one is the one reason why the United States launched the war in Iraq? He kept on saying, what is the reason? Was it weapons of mass destruction? Was it this? Was it that? That focus suggests that he thinks there is only one reason when in fact it could be that
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there were 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 reasons all of which had to be in place. All of which played a role in the decision. If there wasn’t some part of their weapons of mass destruction, the war might not have been started but likewise if there hadn’t been any attacks on September 11th, the war might not have started. If there hadn’t been a whole history of things that went on in that region, the war might not have happened. There is rarely a single cause for a complex event like a business failure or a project that goes wrong or a marriage that breaks up or whatever. There are usually multiple causes and we have trouble figuring out if there are multiple causes so opening your mind to the possibility that it’s not as simple as you think it is, that it’s not just one thing causing another. It would be one way to start trying to deal with that more realistically from my point of view. That’s my point of view as cognitive psychologist who thinks about how we think. I’m not a clinical psychologist who thinks about depression and things like that. This is sort of just from a cognitive point of view. So Chris, when you think about that then — when we think about how we need to think and certainly from a cognitive perspective, is there a better way for us to learn. For example, when I take a look at this book, at least for me personally, I have recommended it to probably 25 or 30 people that are personal friends of mine who I really believe this would benefit. Is there a different learning model now? I see the process that you’ve taken and its brilliant. I want to ask you from a business context in a minute about here you see your stories and then you have scientific evidence to back your stories so they become not only more believable but real. If we wanted to really become better at a particular skill or become better at learning certain things, should we shift our thinking about how we think or how we learn?

That’s a great question. If you’re trying to learn a particular skill or become expert in a particular area, one lesson of cognitive psychology research over decades and this is not my own personal research. I’m going to sort of tell you what the field, as a whole has found, is that there is a difference between getting experience in something and deliberately practicing and studying it and working on self improvement. I will give you personal anecdote. I used to play a lot of chess when I was younger. I haven’t played a serious tournament game in probably about 12 years now but I used to be much more active. I remember when I was an
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improving player, I would go to the chess club and there would be some guys there at the chess club who are really great guys, nice guys. I would play against them and so on but they never seem to get better year after year. They always had the same level of skills but they were there every week playing for hours. They had a lot of experience. They played and played but they didn’t get better. Whereas other people, played the same amount of time or even less and got better. What’s the difference between those people? Well, the people who got better actually went and studied and actually went and practiced. It’s this notion of deliberate practice, of spending time actually practicing to try to get better as opposed to just doing the thing that is really important to focus on it. It’s easy to lose to sight of that because we think that that just by doing something we are practicing and we are getting better but not nearly as much as we could if we had a systematic plan of study. So if you want to become better at golf or better at tennis or something like that, don’t just play more golf or tennis; if you’re really serious about getting better, you have to seriously approach studying, get a coach or a trainer and so on. It seems kind of obvious once I’ve said it but it’s amazing how much we don’t do it. You know, people say they want to get better at something but all they actually do is they do the thing. They don’t really take any specific steps to get better at it. They think they’re just going to get better naturally and they frustrated when they don’t. Then when you hear about it, you have to study, get a trainer and so on. It’s like duh that seems obvious. We don’t do it for some reason. That’s not a new approach that comes out of our book. That’s an approach from cognitive psychology that’s been sort of developed over decades and it does match with common sense once you think about it. Chris, one of the things I did personally was just on an index card, I just kind of wrote the six illusions down. Since I read the book, I just kind of found myself at the end of each day reminding myself of what card number 1 and number 2; if there any thing that happened throughout the course of the day that made me more conscious with each one of these illusions. Is there a recommendation? Is that something that you think might be helpful to trying to help me maybe be more attentive? I love that idea. I have never heard of defraud but I love the fact that people are thinking so deeply about what we wrote. That’s extremely gratifying to be as a practical matter I like that. I like that idea.

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One thing we did say in the book was, you know, when you’re watching the news, or reading the newspaper or something like that, think about whether the events you’re reading about could possibly be explained by some of the illusions we’re talking about whether people who were overconfident or people who misinterpreted other people’s confidence or whether people who had conflicting memories and didn’t realized it. That’s just the way memory works as opposed to lying whether people who misinterpret it cause an affect and so on. But your notion, your idea of reviewing what happened and thinking about it exclusively as a great way to do that because that sort of forces you to think about what you did during the day and what other people did and see if you can find an example of that. I think that’s a wonderful idea. I would love to find out whether that actually makes you more sensitive to the stuff and whether you think it winds up sort of improving your decision making in the long run. That would be great to see. Well, to be continued. One of the things that we always struggled with in the 25 years that I spent in the Wall Street arena is this whole issue of confidence. Especially nowadays, as you know, consumer confidence is probably at an all time low even from a customer service perspective, let alone investment management and so forth. As I delved into this whole confidence issue and the illusion of confidence it made a heck of a lot of sense to me. Now, I have a better understanding of what caused that. So when I look at this from entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial perspective and sales people to really try to be very conscious of this whole issue of confidence. How would you recommend that people both from a consumer perspective as well as a sales or entrepreneurial perspective begin to really make this an issue that will at least minimize this illusion a little bit? As with all of the evolutions we talked about in our book. The first piece of advice that we have is to become aware of it and to focus more on it. And think about when you see someone expressing confidence whether they’re just a confident person in general, whether they always express that kind of confidence or whether it’s really a valid signal of what they know or what they’re claiming to be able to do or what they’re claiming to be remembering accurately whatever the case may be. The problem with the illusion of confidence is that our tendency is to think that how confident someone is, is a valid indicator of the underlying ability or skill or ability to meet some delivery data or whatever. I can’t tell you how
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many times personally in the last year since we moved to a new house, we dealt with contractors and they say, I’m going to be there on that date. It’s going to be done by that time. It’s going to cost only this much. Even knowing all I do and having already finished writing that check doing this little book, my first reaction is always, “Oh that’s great. It will be done at the end of Monday.”

Only then later do I think, well, does he know what he’s talking about? Is he just saying that? Does he honestly believe that but he’s not going to be able to do it because things are going to come up. Of course, then a month later, it’s still not done and I went back and I say, suckered again. So you got to pay attention to that kind of thing. Whenever someone says to you this is one that’s going to be done. This is how much it’s going to cost. This is how it’s going to work and so on. When they say, I’m really confident. You have to apply some kind of discount factor to that.

In a way, it’s discounting your own tendency to believe in those things which is an inherent human tendency. It’s not that you are stupid or you don’t learn from experience or whatever. It takes a huge amount of cynicism to overcome that inherent tendency that we have. From the person presenting this, from the contractors’ perspective, if they approached you a little bit differently and maybe presented it or used a different framework in letting you know that there is probability that this is going to be happening, you know, finished by X and we’re going to show up by X. Does that thinking or maybe language, would that increase your ability to be confident in that person? So should we, as entrepreneurs and/or sales people, shift our presentation to more, you know, here’s the theory or here’s a little more scientific thinking behind just, hey buy this product because it’s going to work? Here’s the problem, with your contractor, instead of saying, I’m going to have it done by Friday afternoon, you said, there is a 30% chance I’ll be done by Friday afternoon, a 10% chance the following Monday, a 10% chance the day after that and so on. First of all, you would sound weird. Second of all, people might take their business elsewhere to someone who said, “Alright, I’ll definitely have it done by the end of Friday” even if that person knows no better than you how long
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it’s actually going to take. We tend to respond to expressions of certainty more than we should. More than the facts justify our doing but we do it. It’s really kind of a trap. If you’re going to be selling to people who have the mind that all human beings do, what do you do? Give an honest assessment and run the risk of losing the business to someone who is too optimistic and too confident. It’s a conundrum and I don’t really know the solution to that. I think that sophisticated purchasers complicated things should maybe be able to have a process where they can resist the natural tendency to take the highest confidence option. Governments that are building public works or companies that are building buildings, stadium, complicated things, big pieces of software and so on. There are multiple sophisticated people involved there. They really ought to be able to step back and say that these guys really know what they’re talking about. In particular, are there any similar projects to the one that we’re about to embark on and how long do those take. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that we know so much about our own project that we’re the only one’s who can forecast how long it’s going to take and our judgments are going to be right. Most projects that you do, other people have done similar things elsewhere in the world. In fact some of them are extremely cookie cutter but you don’t even realize it like building skyscrapers. Skyscrapers seem like hugely complex project and they are but it’s been done thousands of times. Instead of taking the estimate that you get you might want to look at how long does it take the average-sized skyscraper of your size to get built and think that that’s a more realistic estimate; the same with pieces of software. That’s called taking the outside view. In a way, you’re sort of like stepping outside and your looking at your project from the outside as an outsider would. The outsider is not emotionally invested in it. He doesn’t think he knows all the details better than everyone else. In the book for example, we say writing our book, this is the first time that we wrote a book together. It was the first time either of us had written like this. It seems like a really important project. We thought we really knew exactly what was going to be involved, to look at it from the publisher’s point of view. We were just another pair of authors writing a book where we had 300 pages long about a non-fiction subject and they’ve had that experience thousands of times.

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So they are actually much better than we are at predicting how long are we going to take to do it. If you can sort of step outside your projects and step outside your mindset and look at it as an outsider well you might get a better impression. I really don’t know how to really answer the question of what to do when you’re providing these estimates to your customers but that’s a really tough question because of the inherent psychology of confidence. That’s inherent everywhere. Certainly, we may not project it as consumers but none of us like to be sold first and foremost as you know. It becomes very difficult for anybody who is trying to present ideas to people. One of the things we used to do Chris, that seemed to help us at least a little bit differently was we always used to present the positives and the negatives. We had what we call our kind of our black hat thinking, kind of like the drug commercials we see on TV. This may cause you a heart attack and it may cause you this but if you still like it buy it. When you present the dark side, I think it at least puts you in a position to say, this is the worse that could happen and as long as there is authenticity there, there is still a level of trust that has to be established but I think that may help a little bit. It can especially with people, let’s say with some customers I think that will help and I would like to think that I’m one of the customers who appreciate a more nuance view and so on. Our tendency to hide the negative and be over optimistic about the positive is exactly one of the reasons why laws are passed and regulations are instituted that require disclosing some of the negative things and some of the bad possibilities that might happen because we have sort of an inherent tendency to minimize those and to think over confidently about our likelihood of success. It’s not really a horrible thing either. Sometimes you want people to be confident. Before you send your soldiers into battle, you probably want them to be a little bit overconfident. If they were under-confident, their unit might fall apart. They might not be willing to enter battle or take those risks and so on. Sometimes excessive confidence is not necessarily such a bad thing. But when making really important decisions and you don’t have a clear view of the true risks and likely problems and so on then it’s not a good thing. Chris, you hear a lot of, I remember in my capacity as managing partner of my organization. One of the most critical things for us was talent management. A lot of people, you see in a cliché that hiring great people is a gut feel. Certainly there are some aspects where a little bit of that is correct but I always struggled with that as somebody who was reliant on the cost of a miss-hire is a lot more expensive than hiring a great person.
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Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

What’s your thought on that? When should we at least listen to that intuition in a conscious way I guess? We should always listen to it but we should probably never play Simon Says and just do whatever it tells us to do. You should always listen to it because what most people call intuition which means something like a perception of your own emotional reactions to things and what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable or maybe you’re perceiving some non-verbal signals that are coming from someone in the sense of who you’re deciding to hire. They just make you uncomfortable or something like that. If there something seems off about them. That’s valid and useful information. The problem is when we pay too much attention to that and we pay less attention to other information that is probably more valid. This belief that’s been promulgated quite a bit over the past few years especially on the wake of books like Blink by Malcolm Gladwell that we’ll all better off if we trusted our guts more often, you know, went with our gut and so on. That’s not necessarily true. One interesting aspect of this is why do people think that it’s a good idea to trust your guts. Probably what’s happening in a lot of cases is they’re remembering some instances in their lives when they wanted to do something one way and they want to make one decision, but they second guessed themselves and they went a different way and then it didn’t work out. So they’re saying if I only gone with my instinct. If I’d only gone with my first option things would have been better. Those are going to stick out in your memory because you have sort of tangible evidence that you made a wrong decision. However, the problem is that you’re not paying attention to all the times when you change your mind and things went well. Those things don’t standout in memory. You’d probably don’t even remember that you changed your mind and didn’t go with go with your instinct in those cases. You changed your mind, things went fine and you don’t think about those decisions anymore. Nor do you remember the times when you had only one instinct and it was right all along and there was no change involved. So what winds up happening is we wind up paying much too much attention to those couple of instances when we had a gut feeling that seemed to be correct in retrospect but we didn’t follow it and then we over generalize from that. We think, well, we should really go with our guts much more often. You will hear people say sometimes every time I followed my instinct, followed my intuition it’s been the right thing to do. People who say that have — I don’t want to be
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www.33voices.com The Invisible Gorilla (Unplugged)

Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

insulting but they don’t really much of an idea what they’re talking about because they’re not actually tallying all their decisions properly in memory. Something stands out in memory. The way memory works is not as a perfect record of all our experiences and decisions, it is very meaning oriented. It preserves logistic things. It highlights something that distorts others. It’s nothing like that kind of perfect record that you could use to make a statistical analysis of your life and figure out that it was always a hundred percent correct to go with your gut. People are remembering a couple of times when they did it and things worked out and generalizing from that. We would never say ignore your intuition or ignore your instincts but don’t get caught up in the belief that they’re always right or they’re better than stepping back and doing some rational analysis. They aren’t. It’s just one more piece of information we weighed. In some decisions, it’s a very crucial piece of information to be weighed. When you’re deciding what kind of ice cream to have for dessert, go with your gut. Put the flavors that seem really good to you, you’ll probably be happy with it. Don’t try to analyze ice cream. Don’t try to analyze what kind of music you like. But when you’re thinking about who to hire unless there is no other basis for distinguishing between people which is rarely the case, don’t just go with your gut. Do a little more analysis of the qualities of these people that might predict how well they’re going to do. When you’re making important financial decisions and likewise, that I think is really not a time to rely too much on instinct when it’s possible that instinct could lead you to make a huge mistake. Incidentally, by the way, one more thing I want to add is that some people think that — people give this advice to test takers all the time like on the SAT or something like that. They say, well, if you can’t decide what the right answer is, go with your first instinct. Go with the one you thought was right at first. That’s actually, as far as research shows, a bad strategy because people who change their answers more often change them to correct answers than change them to wrong answers. Be careful of those little pieces of advice. They are often not backed by any real scientific evidence. I have a daughter that is taking the SAT and she got that exact same advice so it’s ironic you even bring that up. Tell her I said otherwise. At some tests, one thing that’s good to do is sometimes penalize you for guessing. That is something to take into account

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www.33voices.com The Invisible Gorilla (Unplugged)

Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

but they don’t penalize you for guessing. Then there is no reason that your first instinct is necessarily going to be right the way they say it is. Chris where do you guys take this work from here? I think you opened up some pretty — you have enlightened a lot of people. At least I’m speaking for the people that I have exposed this to and the conversations that I’ve had. Where do you guys take this thing? There are a couple of things we’d like to do more. One, we would like to find out more about actual problems that people have had in their organizations and so on and how understanding these kind of illusions and understanding how I minds works can help make better decisions. So we’re sort of trying to take it more in the direction of speaking out, reaching more audiences, you don’t usually get exposed to scientific research and psychology and sort of interact more with them, find out more what their concerns are, how it applies to their lives and organizations and so on. We’re doing more research in all these areas trying to learn more about the ways that our attention is limited and how attention works and how expertise works. How people become expert in different areas. One area that I’m working on especially is thinking about how organizations can become more intelligent. We know how to measure the intelligence of individuals. We give them an IQ test and that’s a fairly good measure of how smart they are and looking at SATs something like that. What about groups, you know, 3, 4, 5 people who work together in a group or even large organizations; can we measure how intelligent they are? I’m involved in research on those kinds of questions. That’s really interesting stuff for me. Especially from an organizational perspective. I think what happens when people get exposed to these types of material, certainly as you want them to do or get them to think but it really does also give them a framework. Your writing style, both of you guys, is fabulous and when you can take these complex subjects and say, here are six areas - at least for me personally that I looked at. These are real. They impact all of us. Perhaps as you said, a greater awareness of these six levels or greater awareness of what could potentially be causing some of the issues that you have … just that piece alone. I think will stimulate their thinking enough to say, hey maybe we ought to look to other things, to shift our ideas or better strategies and so forth. Organizations and small ones in particular most of the
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www.33voices.com The Invisible Gorilla (Unplugged)

Christopher Chabris with Moe Abdou

time don’t have access to this kind of material, and don’t have access to the resources they need to build their businesses. So I think if you are able to tackle that question and gear it towards that type, the people all over the world will definitely embrace it. I hope you’re right from your lips to God’s ears. I think they will and I want to be conscious of your time. I could spend all day with you. You guys are doing some really groundbreaking work. I’m a huge fan. We’ll get this stuff. We’ll get this transcribed and we’ll send it out through various media outlets in the form of a PDF article and also create a video PowerPoint around it and try to get the message out and hopefully, we can continue our dialog. If I can ever be a resource or assistance to you guys in any way, we have a pretty good roster of entrepreneurs and businesses that we work with. I’d be happy to make introductions or to get your stuff in front of them. That would be amazing. I’m sure we’ll be in touch about that. We’ll definitely do.

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