‘Cause we’ve all got ’em and no intelligence is universal.
We had an accident in the Leachman family household. A routine effort to clean the kitchen oven ended up stripping the veneer off the poor cabinets below. Have no fear, I’m a woodworker.
Our house is a true relic. Original custom mid-century modern built in 1956 with gorgeous tongue-and-groove ceilings and Polynesian Mahogany paneling throughout. I’m 100% sure it’s Polynesian Mahogany because it’s specified in the original blue prints we have framed on the wall.
So a jaunt to the hardware store produced some Polynesian Mahogany boards which I had shaped, bonded, and finished after a day. I proudly installed the doors and stepped back to look at my wife for the “I fixed it” moment.
Only to realize the cabinets in our kitchen are not Polynesian Mahogany, but stained Maple instead. You may have even missed this difference in the photo.
The Polynesian Mahogany cabinet doors were left as a persistent reminder of what I like to call “blind-spots”: our flawed assumptions about the simplicity of our complex world.
Let’s pause for a moment. Look out straight ahead of you. Now within your field of view, notice something that you’ve never noticed before.
It’s not too hard to find blind spots. When you think about the torrent of information our senses unleash on our brains, it’s only natural for our brains to develop compression algorithms. If we noticed and remembered everything, always, we’d be wrecks. Our brains have an incredible ability to simplify the world around us via assumptions. These assumptions are typically formed relative to our values. It’s this combination of observations and assumptions that form our unique conscious realities.
And it’s these inevitable flaws in our assumptions that create our blind spots. The trick is in identifying and fixing those blind-spots that will matter down the road.
The Discovery of Blind Spots
I have a good friend, one of the smartest people I know, who struggled most of his life with weight loss. On multiple occasions I tried to bring different diet strategies up with him and was dismissed. At one point he even said, “You can’t use values to predict what someone is going to eat. People are impulsive and just eat whatever they want to.”
It’s particularly ironic because this is the same friend who has the mantra, “you don’t know what you don’t know!”
Seeing the stonewall, I backed off to try a more subtle approach, delivering lunches to spur conversation, etc. Thankfully, he had another friend whom he was looking to impress that presented the weight-loss topic an accompanying book in the right way. After reading loads of books and successfully applying the material, he’s lost a lot of weight and is on the road to health again. The problem is he thinks he’s discovered the secret to weight-loss and is now the authority needing to educate the rest of us — another blind-spot.
I’ve noticed I receive a few responses when I discover a true blind-spot in someone else: 1) avoidance, 2) denial, and 3) an overly long blank stare.
It’s no coincidence that Alcoholics Anonymous preaches the mantra, “admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.” Identifying you have a blind-spot makes it a value that you can begin building knowledge about.
Another response I often get and give is, “I never thought about it like that.” This is someone who has constructed knowledge in an area, but had a small blind-spot in putting it together. These are relatively easy fixes that people are more receptive to and are often fixed with just that response.
It’s the BIG blind-spots that are a lot harder to remedy. To use a thermodynamic analogy, a person’s information capacity for a subject is like the heat capacity: Cv=du/dT where internal energy (u) is like values and temperature (T) is like resources. If a person has little to no information capacity for a topic (due to a blind spot) it’s going to take a LOT of effort (dT) to influence or change their values (du) in any appreciable way.
In his fantastic autobiographical book, “Why we Make Things and Why it Matters: The Education of a Craftsman,” author Peter Korn establishes that people engage in an artistic or creative pursuit because they believe that afterwords they will somehow be changed by it.
As the wisdom of Lao Tze says, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.”
We find and most effectively fix our blind-spots by doing things. It’s what shapes our consciousness. From my friend that discovered weight-loss to the discovery of my maple kitchen cabinets, it’s these reality-based feedback loops that shape our realities. It’s the essence of scientific inquiry and research.
So take that road-less-traveled. Start a vacation with no plans. Stumble-upon. Improvise. Go too slow before going too fast. Above all listen.
See our world.
I want no part of a future where technology meets my every value and need such that I become blind.