Perception: Disconnects, Distortions And Deficiencies

We often hear that seeing is believing, but should we always believe what we see? Our perceptions can be superficial and unduly influenced by past experiences. Architects, IT professionals and security personnel can the same office, but what registers and remains with them varies significantly. We see through our filters. We select a narrow slice of reality under the guise that we already “know” what is key. Even if we collect a broad scan, we typically retain only 90% of what we see.

These perceptional deficiencies can be addressed in several ways:

  1. We have a perception deficiency that is best addressed by asking others what they see. Visual allusions, like the one below, illustrate that there are multiple correct views of see the same reality. Some may focus on the vase, while others see two profiles. Accepting that there is another point of view increases our ability to understand current realities.
  2. We can overcome perceptual distortions by avoiding stereotypes. Generalized judgments gloss over distinctions and offer the false illusion of uniformity. Stereotypes also encourage simplistic thinking and undue confidence that things are under control. Stereotypical labels also reduce the potential for respect. Kierkegaard captured this reality when he stated: “Once you label me, you negate me.” Labels transform the other person into one of “THEM,” which is an impersonal abstraction. Stereotypes blind us.
  3. Perception disconnect are also based on fixed perceptions. Our world is becoming more complex, integrated and agile, and that fixed perceptions limit our ability to collect information and recognize interactions. Holding a fixed or narrow view means that we misapply our perceived knowledge. Convinced that our perceived knowledge we refuse to pivot or adjust our views. Instead of listening we merely seek agreement. When others recognize our stubborn view, they fail to introduce new perspectives since it seems wise not to not “rock the boat.” Fixed views produce overlooked opportunities and alternatives.

We get our eyes examined to ensure that we see clearly. We must also test our perceptions. For as Thoreau noted: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” We must continually test our perception before we accept what we see at first glance is all that there is to see. To paraphrase Pogo: we have met the enemy and he is us.


Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.

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  1. Our thoughts create our reality, affect our emotions and, consequently, our behaviors. Every thought “is born” and evolves around our beliefs (beliefs) that by their very nature are true and have a huge influence on us, on our lives, and on others. Our beliefs / convictions are the basis for many of our choices, determining what we accept or reject, things we can do or that we can not do. If we want to change our reality, then we have to change our thoughts. Einstein stated, “You can not get a different reality unless you do not start to change the way you think it has created it,” so it’s in the new thinking that real change is born.

  2. Thank you for bringing this to the forefront Dr Lippitt! I am a firm believer that ‘our perception is our reality’ — as such, I posit this proficiently aligns with the foundation of your message, too.

    Though no easy task, with vigilance and tenacity as Carol mentioned, we can do this. … but it requires concerted effort.

    In full support, we ought to consider the gravity here and strive to tend to the commitment. Very important topic — the sheer actuality is (and will continue to be) increasingly important, as the reality impacts every aspect of our lives~

  3. I love this article, Mary. I grew up in very tiny towns and I remember when I first learned about stereotypes. I made up my mind way back then that I would not be small minded or always look at things through the same filters. Of course it drove my parents crazy, but I made it to adulthood with their values intact. I challenge anyone to just try to see things through someone else’s perspective. Even if you don’t agree with them, you have broadened your own world view and understand a piece of theirs.

    • Jane,
      I am not surprise learn that your mind was opened early and that you value different points of view. The value of respecting and listening was highlighted in Superforecasting by Tetlock and Gardner . They found that a group of experts was less accurate than a group of novices in forecasting the future. Expects zero in on their area of specialty and overlook key external facets. Keep up your great work,

  4. Carol,
    Thanks for the comment. Agree that it takes energy and vigilance to stay open. I also think it takes a willingness to confer with others to ask what others see. I have been surprised when I check in with my MBA students about their perceptions. The generational differences might account for a few differences but reality is a kaleidoscope rather than single clear picture.