What Do You See?

Robert Schultek Author of The Gauntlet

What do you see? Is seeing believing?

While we see with our eyes, it’s actually our brains that interpret what we see. And, more than one part of the brain is involved. For example, we ‘see’ shapes before we ‘see’ colors, and then ‘see’ context.

These first stages of visual processing occur unconsciously, so we actually have no idea what information our brain is initially gathering from our visual images. Scientists have confirmed that existing patterns in our brains can deceive us into seeing things differently from how they really are. Recall the color identification game where one person sees one color or shape in an image, while another person sees it differently.

Our brains don’t see everything—the world is too dynamic, too full of stimuli. So the brain takes

shortcuts, constructing a picture of reality with relatively simple algorithms for how things are

supposed to look, potentially creating a perception of what seems to be, rather than what is.

Personally observing situations improves the odds that what we’re seeing is reality because we can choose to broaden the image that we’re ‘seeing,’ or the context in which we’re ‘seeing’ it, to discover insights beyond the target image. But all magicians rely on the fact that while the eye may see movement, the brain cannot comprehend what it’s seeing. When our attention is focused like a spotlight on something, we become oblivious to even obvious changes outside its narrow beam.

As a society, we’ve come to accept photographs and videos at face value. In a court of law, images carry more weight as being authoritative or conclusive than verbal testimony. And this assumption now drives our cultural expectations that the images we see are just as real and true as if we witnessed them.

But photographs and videos do not capture reality, they only construct it. The framing of a photograph, or the actual start and stop moments of a video, represent conscious human decisions that can shape the narrative told by that content. By aiming the camera one way instead of another, we ‘see’ only part of the story, and consciously or subconsciously focus on details that confirm one narrative and exclude those that conflict with it.

As a leader, whose decisions are often influenced by what you see, look beyond the images you are presented to challenge your perceptions. What’s the context behind what you’re seeing? Consider what you are not seeing? Is it possible that your perceptions are causing you to see what you want or expect to see?

How often do you challenge what you are seeing?

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