How to make something invisible

Someone invisible through camouflage

Think about your most recent journey to work. You might have driven, used public transport or walked. From the moment we left our front doors until we said hello to our colleagues our individual journeys will, in many ways, have been unique. But we all have at least one thing in common. We were constantly being bombarded with information.

There were information signs, warning signs and advertisements. There were words, symbols and pictures. Bleeps, bells and dimpled paving stones. But how many did you pay attention to?

There are two main points to consider here and they have direct relevance to leadership and management.

Overload and familiarity

The first problem is that there’s just too much information around. If we all took the time to read or interpret everything available then we would grind to a halt. We can’t possibly pay attention to everything. So, we have to be selective. And that’s where the second problem comes in – familiarity. Why should we pay attention to anything we’ve seen repeatedly again and again and unchanged when there’s so much information vying for our attention?

Quite simply, the easiest way to make something invisible is to leave it unchanged.

We have a sign on the door of our office which says, “Please check that all windows are closed before leaving.” We put it there as a reminder after forgetting twice within a two week period. But, two years on, how often does anyone take any notice of it now? Well, the recent early morning incident with the pigeon should be a clue…

Have a look at any notice board in your workplace. How long have the various posters and messages been there? How many are still relevant? Are any of them out of date? And how many of them would you have noticed if you hadn’t made the conscious decision to go and look at them.

An issue for leadership

How clearly and explicitly do you feel your teams goals are defined? When we asked over 200 doctors this question 21% of them responded either “Not at all” or “Not enough”. Our study was published in BMJ Leader. You might be puzzled by that response. After all, aren’t the team goals clearly defined on the notice board?

We also asked the same participants, “How effectively do you discuss progress towards these goals with your fellow team members?” In this case, 40% responded either “Not at all” or “Not enough”.

What are the chances of success if one fifth of a team are unsure what they are trying to achieve and two fifths are unsure if they are making progress or not? And how well are all those new team members who are joining fresh from medical school or latest training rotations being briefed? What about the locums who are covering holidays?

Learning from advertising

The numerous marketeers who place advertisements on radio, billboards and television are experts in grabbing our attention. They know all about invisibility phenomenon. So they change things regularly. They make sure that we are exposed to their message in different ways, in different places and at different times. And they make sure that we see, hear and feel their message in a manner that that is relevant to us.

What are you trying to change or achieve?

How visible or invisible are your goals to your team?

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director