“You should seek to be aware of all that has an impact on your life. You must confront reality whether it’s pleasant or not. Within the context you choose, being aware means actively seeking understanding.”
“Life just seems so full of connections. Most of the time we don’t even pay attention to the depth of life. We only see flat surfaces.”
“An expert is someone who has succeeded in making decisions and judgements simpler through knowing what to pay attention to and what to ignore.”
– Edward de Bono
Who hasn’t been surprised by issues on your projects that were always present, but somehow escaped your awareness? You were focused on the project, so it wasn’t that you weren’t paying attention.
I think it’s a matter of avoiding the traps your attention can fall into.
In Personal Brilliance, author Jim Canterucci identifies several common awareness barriers that can keep us from seeing what’s there. If I had to pick the top three pitfalls that can cripple projects I would go with: Automatic Pilot, Discomfort With or Avoidance of the Truth and Judgments and Biased Opinions.
Making decisions based on what has been, instead of what is or what could be can be a common trap we fall in. Rather than looking at the project or situation with fresh eyes, we put the project on a conveyor belt and try to run it through our system.
I ran into this problem when I arranged for my first overseas flight. Or should I say that I ran into it on my way back? My experience with previous flights had led me to believe that the layover on the return flight would be about an hour. My “one hour” layover turned into an overnighter – all because I failed to look at the flight arrangements with “beginner’s mind.” The only way to counter this pitfall is to continue to look at everything as if you were looking at it for the first time, in the present moment.
Discomfort with or Avoidance of the Truth
Not seeing what is plain to the eyes because we are uncomfortable with the truth is another common pitfall in projects and in our lives. Failing to address an issue on a project because it is uncomfortable can result in the project limping along, repeatedly dealing with the same issue to get the release out the door.
I knew as I made my way through Florence and Siena that I might have issues carrying my luggage on the plane, but I assured myself that the size was acceptable. It was ok on the plane to Italy, surely, it would be ok with the airline on my way out of Italy. I was wrong.
I had to check my luggage to get on the plane. At the time, I was very unhappy, but I had only myself to blame. I did not pay attention to how large my bag was when I got on the plane in Chicago and did not take the bag size chart seriously in the Florence airport.
The only way to get past this pitfall is to continue to ask for feedback from the team and stakeholders. “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions” is a phrase I’ve heard over and over again, but here it holds true. Seek out feedback with the goal of creating the best possible result.
Judgment and Biased Opinions
I wrote about this a few weeks ago in my post on getting rid of tension after a conflict. Having negative judgments or opinions about options or people can severely limit your ability to see a situation clearly. If you’re in the middle of a crisis, being unable to hear the options offered by everyone on the team could result in a poor decision.
The key to avoiding this barrier is to self-knowledge. If you notice yourself reacting strongly to something and you’re not sure why, you might need to spend some time trying to understand the reasoning behind your beliefs.
How did you come to this belief? What experiences helped you form this belief? What is the underlying principle that your belief is based on? If a negative perception about a team member is hindering your ability to listen to them, I recommend my previous post.
Despite the speed bumps my vacation ran into, it ultimately ended well because I didn’t let my preconceptions and the nonsense I read about overseas travel ruin my vacation. At least not that much. If there were any other issues, they have all been blended into the pleasant, sunny, wine and art-filled memories I have of Italy.
Do you know of other awareness traps that can blind you to what’s in front of you? How have you managed to avoid stale assumptions and judgments? Leave me a comment or send me a tweet, my id is jgodfrey.