Why can’t ‘I’ see and act on what is so obvious to others

Despite being ill – we think it is the flu – my wife made her way to the nearest John Lewis store yesterday.  After parking she had to carry a large, heavy cardboard box containing a Dyson vacuum cleaner through the John Lewis store, make her case and get a refund.  The task was not yet finished. She then drove over to Costco and bought her chosen replacement and drove back home.  All in all she spent some four hours doing this – whilst being quite ill.

That is not all the effort that went into it.  She had spent several hours on Friday evening working out what Dyson vacuum cleaner would make a suitable replacement.  This task was tedious and done whilst she was ill – she did not enjoy doing it.

To summarise: my wife has spent some six hours replacing her recently purchased Dyson and the new one is sitting in our hallway (unpacked).  And she has done all this whilst she is ill with the flu.

Let me provide you with some context to make sense of the story that I telling.  We have on old Dyson that worked well for several years.  Our decision to replace it was not because it did not work, it was because it had become difficult to use and store as a bit of it – a plastic bit – had broken.  That prompted by wife to take action and buy a new one from John Lewis in the first week of September.  When she unpacked it my eldest son pointed out a glaring weakness of this new model:  the plastic bit that had made the old model difficult to use was looking even more flimsy on the new model.  So he shared his view with his mother and advised her to take it back and get a different model – one that can better take the knocks of life. My wife dismissed his concerns.  On that day or several days later, I made the same observation and advised my wife to take it back: “It is going to break that is clear.  What is uncertain is when.  I suspect that it will be earlier rather than later so I suggest you take it back.”  Or words to that effect. My wife acknowledged that the plastic clip on part did indeed look weak.  And she did nothing.

Now this is what I find interesting.  At least three of us told my wife that the product had a design flaw; she acknowledged that the clip on part that had failed in the old Dyson looked even weaker on the new Dyson; and she did nothing.  In the end she was forced to act because the part we expected to fail broke in less than four weeks; the dyson is normally used once or twice a week.  Why did she ignore what was visible, predictable and had been predicted?

At a broader level why is it that ‘I’ fail to see and act on what is so blindingly obvious?  I suspect that the answer is along the lines of:

I would have to take action – expend energy in dealing with the situation at hand and I may not want to do that right now; and

The story I make about the action that is needed – how much effort it will take, how difficult / unpleasant it will be etc; and

I’d have to acknowledge that I had made a mistake and that causes me emotional upset as I question my judgement, I question my fitness, I am diminished in my own eyes – the story I make about myself.

In my experience it is stories that I make – story about what needs to be done  AND the stories that I make about myself – that stop me doing what we know needs to be done.  So the access to doing what needs to be done is simple – give up the stories or better still make up stories that inspire me to take action.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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