What Are You Looking At? Are You Seeing It?

U Turn SignI once made a terrible mistake while driving. I saw a “No U-Turn” sign and thought that I saw a “U-Turn” sign instead. Since I thought I saw a “U-Turn” sign, I proceeded to execute one, and narrowly avoided what could have been a rather nasty accident. Did my eyes trick me? No, they functioned perfectly as designed. They did not transmit an illusion, they transmitted whatever image they received. Did my brain trick me? No, it received the upside-down image and turned it right-side-up for my benefit. So how did I interpret a “No U-Turn” sign as a “U-Turn” sign?

The answer is that “No U-Turn” signs are quite rare. I am very used to seeing “U-Turn” signs. I am not at all familiar with “No U-Turn” signs. That meant that if I saw a sign that wasn’t familiar to me, I ought to have paused to take a second look. I didn’t. This was probably because the “No U-turn” sign was of the same colour, blue, and the “U” sign, although upside-down with respect to a “U-Turn” sign that was more common, was essentially the same sign but turned the other way. I suppose all that caused me to unconsciously register that what I WAS seeing was a “U-Turn” sign when it was not. This has been the focus of much study that basically says “Say everything positively or not at all.” I believe that this is to a certain extent true. In Singapore, if you do not see a “U-Turn” sign, then the law says that you ought not to execute one. The sudden appearance of a “No U-Turn” sign is actually highly confusing and could very well cause anyone to, like myself, actually see it as a “U-Turn” sign.

EyesWe all look at data, information, reports, summaries, interpretations, signs and so forth every day. Our eyes are open. They work well. So do our brains. Pause. Take a deep breath. Reflect. Are you really seeing what you think you are seeing? Take time to re-examine assumptions. Are they still valid? Is the mission still relevant? Is the vision still worth going after? Then ask yourself what you ought to be doing next.

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