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Book Biz: The Invisible Gorilla

Nobody gave you the notes?

That was the question you asked as you stomped around the office, roaring about the oversight. You wanted notes from yesterday’s meeting. Why weren’t they on your desk?

But they were. Right on top, in a blue folder marked “NOTES” and you never even noticed.

After apologies all around, you felt like a baboon.

How does that happen? You looked directly at what you needed, but it didn’t register. Authors Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons say you’re a victim of your own brain, and in their new book “The Invisible Gorilla,” they explain.

It all started this morning. You were driving to work, chatting on your cell phone to someone about how you got your job. You’ll never forget that day; it’s as if it just happened.

When you were hired, you didn’t know a thing but you faked it well and convinced everyone you could do the job. Now the company is doing better, all because of you. As you fed your cranium with Mozart on CD and chatted with your friend, you were feeling like Top Dog.

Our brains are wired to allow all this hubris. And to think it all might just be illusion…

We are not, first of all, wired to multitask; we simply can’t pay equal attention to two things at once. That phone call, for instance? The social part of your brain will pay heed to the conversation more than the car. You might think you’re observing, but you’re not seeing everything you need to see.

Studies show that even vivid memories fade, morph, and can be “borrowed.” If someone visualizes themselves in a situation or becomes convinced that it happened, it becomes a memory, albeit a false one. Likewise, recollections of an event that really happened will change over time as the teller ages.

Everyone believes they’re above average and thinks they’ll fare better than others in most tasks. Confidence can be illusory. Outside forces are rarely considered in favorable outcomes. And that classical music you enjoyed? Nice try, but the best “food” for your brain, say the authors, is physical exercise.

Based on and expounded from a classic experiment in which volunteers failed to see the obvious in a video, “The Invisible Gorilla” is one of those books that doesn’t, at face-value, mean a thing to your business.

But Chabris and Simons prove that it does.

This book will make you think long and hard about your tenets, and I liked that.

“The Invisible Gorilla” is fascinating and somewhat heavy, but it may shed light on a few false illusions that you’ll want to quash, both personally and at work. Read it — and stop monkeying around.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer, for the Mississippi Business Journal

The Invisible Gorilla

by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

c.2010, Crown

$27 / $32 Canada

306 pages, includes index


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