In the 1990s Simons and Chabris conducted the following experiment at Harvard:

Rolf Dobelli, author of The Art of Thinking Clearly states that,

The monkey business test is considered one of the most famous experiments in psychology and demonstrates the so-called illusion of attention: we are confident that we notice everything that takes place in front of us.  But in reality, we often see only what we are focusing on.

Similarly, whatever our craft, we have a tendency to fossilize.  Our thinking stagnates and we settle for doing things the way we have always done them because it’s good enough.  Yes, this is a fixed mindset for sure, but it parallels the illusion of attention experiment in that we have the illusion of knowing it all and so might miss the forest for the trees.

I was personally reminded of this by my colleague Erika Victor with whom I was sharing my desk storage dilemma (see pic above).  Basically, I told her that my students stuff everything they own inside their desks.  Then when it comes time to find something it turns into the quest for the holy grail – we find lost snacks from months ago, an errant writing assessment, 25 erasers.  If you lost it, chances are I have it stuffed in a student desk somewhere!

At which point Erika turns to me and wonders “Why don’t you just turn the desks the other way around so they can’t access the storage?”


This whole time the solution to my problem was staring at me right in the face (more like the waist really) and I was oblivious to it because of my illusion to attention.  It really is that simple.  It’s easy to pay lip service to growth mindset and say we have one and blah blah blah – but the proof is in the pudding.  What is obvious to others might not be to you and vice versa.  What I think really matters is to always surround yourself with those who can help you learn, grow, and become the better version of yourself.

In one word – collaborate.  Share what you know, hope others will do the same, and trust that good things will happen.  Or to hashtag quote @erikaMvictor #togetherwearebetter!