Let me start this article by asking for you to watch a brief video. It’s fine to watch, I have seen it myself. It lasts for 1 minute 21 seconds.
It is the “selective attention test” video on www.dansimons.com/videos.html (it is the first video on this website showing people in white t-shirts and black t-shirts throwing a ball to each other). It is not something to worry about – just follow the instructions and don’t continue reading until you have seen it.
How did you do it? Did you count correctly the number of passes? Fifteen. Fifteen. It’s a classic experiment that you may have heard of. It’s great to test it on your friends, family, and colleagues.
My thirteen-year-old son saw the gorilla. My nine-year-old son didn’t. My wife rebuffed her attempt. She claimed that some people wearing black t-shirts were wearing trainers with white stripes and the instructions were confusing. (Watch it back, my wife has a point).
I saw the gorilla, but I was looking for it (so that I wasn’t an innocent participant). Although I was aware of the experiment, I had never seen the video. I first read about it in “12 Rules of Life”. An Antidote To Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson1.
I love my books on psychology and behaviour, but this one is special. It’s quite ‘full-on’, it’s funny, and it’s controversial at points – I don’t mind a little controversy.
This chapter is called “Rule 4 – Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday”. It’s not about “Who Someone Else is Today”. It talks about how to be a better version yourself. This doesn’t mean trying to be like another person (maybe a celebrity idol) as this could lead to an unbridgeable gap between the two of you. Instead, it encourages us to move towards a point we consider better in accordance to our implicit and explicit values. Powerful stuff.
Jordan B. Peterson discusses how to aim for this point by starting small and gradually changing, and each incremental change provides a slightly higher baseline from which to compare towards your goal. Jordan B. Peterson explains it well: “Now you’re aiming at something higher.” Now you are wishing for a star.
He then writes “What you aim at determines what you see”, and leads into a discussion on dependency on sight and how the ‘gorilla’ experiment (as I’m now calling it) illustrated how vision is expensive – pyschophysiologically expensive, and neurologically expensive.
This means that there is so much to see in the world that it is impossible for us to process all of it. So we focus our attention on the things we are aiming for and let everything else, which is almost everything, fade into the background. Our vision is mostly peripheral and of low resolution.
This is why so many people (does that include you?) have seen the gorilla. You didn’t see the gorilla, but you focused on the white tee-shirts passing the ball to each of them.
Is a project identical? What does it mean to have the project’s output as our “aim”?
This is an interesting idea that I have seen in my work with many organisations on their projects. Let me give you an example.
We all know from good project management training/literature/experts that we should always have a risk register/log on a project. It is an essential tool for success and should be reviewed regularly.
It still amazes me that projects don’t have a log/risk register. I also find it difficult to keep it current and reviewed regularly. Are you having an awkward moment right this second? When asked why a log/risk register doesn’t exist, he replied:

Don’t ignore the Gorilla – not the Elephant – In The Room