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The Invisible Guerrilla

The Invisible Guerrilla

Intense focus on a specific thing can make us blind, even to stimuli that normally attract our attention. Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons offered the most dramatic demonstration of this hypothesis, two Ig Noble-prize winning psychologists, on their famous experiment - The Invisible Guerrilla.

They made a short film of two teams passing basketballs, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is challenging and completely absorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a guerrilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on.

The guerrilla is in sight for 9 seconds. Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task – and especially the instruction to ignore one of the team – that causes blindness. No one who watches the video without that task would miss the guerrilla.

The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find their results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the guerrilla are initially sure that it was not there – they cannot imagine missing such a memorable event.

Dan Kahneman, another Nobel prize-winning psychologist and author of the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ observes that the guerrilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.

The invisible guerrilla experiment reveals that our attention is very selective. When our mind is engrossed in something, we miss paying attention to the other most obvious things happening around us.

This selective attention theory or the illusion of attention has two implications for entrepreneurs and marketers.

The first implication is that most of the time, our customers pay attention only to the things that stay dominant in their thoughts and ignore the rest. For example –an ardent foodie might be more inclined to consume content related to the new restaurants in the city and its innovative recipes. A fashion enthusiast might follow the influencers on YouTube who create videos about the new design trends. The undeniable truth is, people see what they want to see no matter what we have shown them.

In my home, when we receive the newspaper in the morning, my son would promptly discard the main paper and drift to the movies and entertainment segment. My wife would flip through the fashion section to check out the new arrivals while I earnestly absorb the news in the business section ignoring other pieces. This is a shining example of how our selective mind works.

What’s brewing inside the customers' minds and what draws their complete attention? - are the two most critical things marketers need to know so that they can line up their value proposition, media, advertisement, and content strategies accordingly.

The second big consequence is that it is because of this invisible guerrilla effect, leaders in companies like Nokia, Blockbuster, and Kodak had missed leveraging the most apparent technological and consumer behavioural shift that turned around their respective industries.

Take Kodak as an example. Its top management was so engrossed in retaining and growing the existing market share because they had already built the chemical processing capabilities. They were not able to grasp the most noticeable trends, like digital photography, that was slowly redefining their industry.

If entrepreneurs take a step back and divert their attention to the bigger picture, they will be able to see the invisible guerrilla and can foster innovative thinking.

The invisible guerrilla concept comes as a wake-up call and can immensely benefit us by being more vigilant towards the risks and opportunities that are right under our nose.

About the Author

Rajesh Srinivasan is a Marketing Strategy Consultant, Author, and Keynote speaker.