“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans,” said John Lennon. The most important details in life can pass us by if we’re not careful. Noticing is a power that many of us fail to use. We’re too busy or obsessed with refreshing our inboxes. A little inner stillness and appreciation of how much noticing can shift a situation—or entire industry—are all we need. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to be a master of noticing.
Max Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See, shares a gripping story of a time when he overlooked a critical moment. The experience still haunts him, he says. Bazerman was a witness in an important State Department trial taking on the tobacco industry. As he explains in the interview clip below, a high-ranking official in the Justice Department attempted a startling tactic to convince Bazerman to change his testimony. The fact that Bazerman initially chose to dismiss the uncomfortable experience became an obsession for him when, later, there was a major turning point in the case after another witness, who had the same experience, came forward to the media, exposing this Justice official.
As Bazerman explains:
The reason I tell you this story is because I think a lot of our failure to notice happens when we’re busy. It happens when we don’t know exactly what’s happening. But I think it’s our job as executives, as leaders, as professionals to act when we’re pretty sure that there’s something wrong. It’s our job to notice and to not simply be passive when we can’t quite figure out the evidence. It’s our job to take steps to figure out what’s going on and to act on critical information.
For more on Bazerman’s discussion on the power of noticing, watch this clip from Big Think’s interview: