Training ourselves to see the invisible gorilla

By    Feb 14, 2013
Earlier this week, NPR ran a story about some interesting research into the concept of inattential blindness that I think is incredibly instructive for arts leaders. The study went like this: an image of a man in a gorilla suit was superimposed upon a series of slides that radiologists typically use to look for cancer (see the image above). A group of radiologists were then asked to review the slides for cancerous nodules. The result? 83% did not see the gorilla.


“When you ask someone to perform a challenging task, without realizing it, their attention narrows and blocks out other things. So, often, they literally can’t see even a huge, hairy gorilla that appears directly in front of them.”

Simply put: the study found that we only find what we are trained to look for. While this result might be obvious, it might not necessarily be innocuous. Running a cultural organization is certainly a complex and challenging task. I can’t help but think that we are overlooking some gorillas in our midst. In our field we often use the past issues or successes as a frame for discussing our future. This framing can significantly color what kinds of opportunities we look for. Being vigilant about listening to new ideas that broaden our view can go a long way to combatting this. What are we as a field trained to look for? Is that enough?

Read the article (Why Even Radiologists Can Miss A Gorilla Hiding In Plain Sight) and let us know what you think.