As Lloyd Davis, Janet Parkinson, Maria Sipka and any number of my friends might tell you, I’ve a bit of a problem with my eyesight.
Now this isn’t down to rubbish opticians and/or glasses that should have been changed ten years ago, nor is it down to the fact I’ve downed too many double vodkas before lunch-time, it’s simply a legacy of no-one actually realising I was shortsighted until I was seven (well, why would I have said anything? I thought the world was meant to be hazy and full of sudden collisions), plus another four years or so of my being too vain to actually put the glasses on.
As a result, not only was I inevitably left until last in any kind of sports team selection at school (possibly this happened once a week but in my pained childhood memory, the process seemed to come round more frequently – life became easier once I discovered bunking off to shop in High Street Ken), I also developed a way of ignoring or not fully believing what I actually did see.
Now in adult life I frequently fail to register blindingly obvious physical entities (like balls coming at me – ask any of my previous team captains).
Anyway, this all comes to mind while I’m sitting in the Royal Thames Yacht Club Knightsbridge with Arie de Geus. We’re eating Dover Sole, polished off with some nice Viognier, and looking out over a sunny Hyde Park, where people are riding horses, sedately, along Rotten Row, and frost still sparkles on the grass.
Arie is telling me about Francisco Varela’s research into ‘cognitive objects’. Varela (1946-2001) was a Chilean biologist and neuroscientist who argued that we need to ‘recognise’ something neurologically before we can process it properly; if we have no previous experience of an object (or idea), then we don’t tend to pick it up.
Leading on from this, Arie argues that the main problems in business stem from the fact that we either (i) fail to see something because we don’t understand it or (ii) reject something we do see because the object triggers a recollection of something painful or unpleasant which we would rather forget.
These ideas tie in nicely with Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan Theory (thanks again to Benjamin Ellis for mentioning that) – we’re so busy analysing stuff that’s familiar, we fail to prepare ourselves for perceived (and unperceived) impossibilities.
Arie is keen for neurologists and management experts to work more closely together to explore the links between neuroscience and the way people behave at work. From what I understand, the Tavistock Institute and MIT have already done some research into this area, but it’s still relatively unexplored.
I hope we see this research happen. Neuroscience could go a long way to explaining why, despite years of expounding the case for enabling, enlightened leadership, we humans still tend to revert to primitive, command and control-type methods when it suits us.