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The Muse

July 01, 2004

Thinking out of the box

We all have heard this advice to "think out of the box"...people are always telling you to think radically,creatively and be inspired.But is it that easy? All our lives we have been conditioned to act and react in certain ways, and this inherent tendency spills off into everything we do. I was reading this article from those Wharton guys, and here are some excerpts from their study:

The recent 9/11 report shows that passengers on the planes that hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon appeared to act based the experience of past hijackings. Passengers and crew knew from this experience that cooperating with the hijackers presented the best chances of survival. They viewed what was happening through the filter of this model.During the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers made announcements that reinforced this impression. But once the passengers of Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, received additional information via cell phones from friends and family watching news reports, they were quickly able to shift their thinking. They recognized these hijackers were operating from a different model. They were using the planes as missiles against targets. With this shift in thinking, a group of passengers on Flight 93 was apparently able to take heroic actions to stop these plans, and the plane crashed without reaching its target. Changing our thinking creates powerful opportunities for action. But to take those actions, the passengers first needed to change their hypothesis about what was going on.

Take the four-minute mile. Before 1954, it seemed to be a physical barrier that humans could not cross. It was impossible. Then Roger Bannister broke this barrier on a British track. Within three years, 16 other runners had also cracked the four-minute mile. Was there some breakthrough in human evolution? No. What had changed was their thinking. Bannister showed it was possible. We think the barriers are in the world, but often they are in our own minds.

It is amazing how malleable memory and perception can be – much more than we think. For example, in one research study subjects were standing at an airport ticket counter. The ticket agent pretended to drop something, ducked behind the counter and a different person finished the transaction. Many of the subjects didn’t even recognize the change had been made. We tune out big chunks of the environment.

In another study, subjects were asked to count the number of times players with white shirts passed a basketball in a video. Most of the subjects achieved a fairly accurate account of the passes, but only 42% saw something more important. A person in a black gorilla costume walks right into the center of the action, beats his chest and moves off. More than half the subjects were so engrossed in the task at hand that they couldn’t see the gorilla. An entire gorilla, right in front of their eyes! It is very sobering to think about. Our models and attention create blinders that limit what we see. What gorillas are moving through your field of vision right now that you fail to see?

Interested? http://www.impossiblethinking.com

Read the whole article here


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