Opportunity Blindness

Imagine you’re watching your favorite basketball team, they’re in overtime and the crowd is going wild. You’re paying attention to the seconds racing on the clock, the players dribbling and passing, the coaches pacing the sidelines and the refs shouting their game-changing calls. In the midst of all of this, a six-foot-tall gorilla lopes onto the court and pounds its chest. Chances are, you would take notice, right?

Believe it or not, a joint study between the University of Illinois and Harvard proved that approximately 50% of people in attendance would NOT see the gorilla! This rather humorous example of inattentional blindness was tested in a 1999 experiment dubbed “The Invisible Gorilla.” Masterminded by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the test aimed to gauge how much stimuli the brain can pay attention to at any given time.


The study they created had a group of people wearing black or white shirts passing basketballs to each other in a random pattern. The viewer was asked to count how many times the players in white passed the ball to each other. The correct answer ended up being 15 passes… but then the viewer was asked if they also managed to spot the person wearing a gorilla suit walk through the scene? Half of the viewers did not. The Invisible Gorilla experiment became an Internet sensation and proved that when it comes to our ability to focus, we’re not always paying attention to the right thing.

This form of invisibility depends not on the limits of the eye, but on the limits of the mind. We consciously see only a small subset of our visual world, and when our attention is focused on one thing, we fail to notice other, unexpected things around us—including those we might want to see.

Simons said in a 2012 Smithsonian article.


As Neal Cabage explains in the above video, this inattentional blindness could be a detriment to your business – although he prefers to call it “Opportunity Blindess.” Cabage – a digital product architect – is no stranger to managing and marketing a business. He founded ProductCamp.LA as well as PMA.LA and sold them both. In his 2013 book The Smarter Startup, Cabage provides a comprehensive look at why some startups succeed while others fail. He is a firm believer that by taking a more strategic approach to entrepreneurship, founders can improve their own outcomes. Cabage strongly urges entrepreneurs to pay attention to market research and customer feedback when it comes to building a product.

Take the time to talk to customers and understand what the market wants and then set a success trajectory rather than focus entirely on velocity.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how fast you create a product if no one wants to use it. A pitfall many founders fall into is focusing solely on project management or more requirements analysis. Cabage sites the Invisible Gorilla Experiment as a means of illustrating his point: putting too much focus into any one aspect of your product or business could blind you from other crucial factors that will enable you to succeed.

When we’re too focused on solving problems, we often do not observe the opportunities right in front of us.

Cabage says on his blog NealCabage.com.

Opportunity Blindness, as Cabage coined, is like a blind spot while racing down the highway -- any missed opportunity can make or break your startup in the blink of an eye.

Ironically, the answer to improving your luck, then, is not working harder -- it actually might be the opposite. If you find that you are always doing ‘heads down’ work and frustrated that you’re not reaching your goals, it may be time to turn off the computer and go to an industry networking event or mingle with your customers. Have a drink and engage in conversation. Not only might you have the opportunity to reframe the problem in a way you hadn’t thought about before, you might even make a few connections who can help you reach your destination a little faster.

So in other words, while it’s important to keep your eye on the ball, try not to neglect any giant primates lurking around the corner.