Nothing is permanent except change… Happy Sankranti!

Makar Sankranthi is a festival of change. During this period, the Sun passes through the winter solstice, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn i.e. a journey from South to North, an evolution towards a positive direction, a journey to make days longer, brighter and warmer.

The Sanskrit word Sankranthi literally means sacred change – samyak kranthi iti sankranthi. As I think about change, I am reminded of how bad I am at sometimes noticing change – a new haircut, new clothes, new furniture, new photo on the wall, bloomed flowers by the driveway and many such small things. If you are also like me, we are not alone. This is phenomenon is called ‘Change Blindness’.

 The term ‘Change Blindness’ refers to the surprising difficulty observers have in noticing large changes to visual scenes.” (Simons & Rensink, 2005)

Many experiments are conducted to demonstrate this limitation of human mind. Change Blindness is nothing more than the limitation of human mind to see what it expects to see and be ‘blind’ to the fact that we are sometimes blind to change. What this means is, when you tell people they sometimes miss large changes, they don’t accept the fact.

In one of the experiments, Psychology students after learning about Change Blindness maintained that they would never be that stupid to not notice large changes. So they were asked to take part in an experiment in another building and were told to complete the paperwork at the counter. See what happened for yourself –

Here are couple more videos that illustrate the phenomenon.

These videos are truly entertaining and largely convincing of our limitations. But the critical question is how does this knowledge serve me?

Now having known that we will miss, what in retrospect, seemed blindly obvious, can I see real life examples from the past that seems obvious to me now? One place to start is to look for the list of famous companies that are no longer surviving or have lost their edge to ‘changing’ times. Obviously many things should go wrong (Management, Finance, Customer Satisfaction, External Environment, etc.) for a large company to fail and with an hindsight advantage, this is just an attempt to identify one of the factor of many more factors. Here are  few examples:

  • Eastman Kodak – Missed coming of digital camera trend
  • Blockbuster – Missed online movie streaming trend
  • Blackberry – Missed smart phone trend
  • News Paper Publishers – Missed real-time online / social news coverage trend

Anyone can ‘predict’ the past with this knowledge. But how can one avoid such mistakes in the present / future? The more I think about it, the more I realize that having the knowledge of our inability to notice large changes prepare us better for change, than hubris of ‘know it all’, ‘notice it all’ mentality. Once we start to operate with the assumption that we will miss large changes, there is hope that we will put in place better processes and controls to capture what matters the most. If not anything, at least as the old adage goes ‘realization of ignorance is the first act of knowledge’. It is wiser to be knowledgeable of ignorance than otherwise.

Nothing is permanent except change and we have had festivals to celebrate change for thousands of years. Perhaps Sankranti is one more way to remind ourselves to notice the ubiquitous change through celebrations that otherwise we fail to notice.




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