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The Mirror Lies


I recently received an alumni newsletter from my alma mater. Looking at the pictures of my classmates, I lamented about how old they looked and congratulated myself on my comparatively youthful appearance. I even studied myself in the mirror to confirm I did not look as old as my classmates.


Later that day, I passed another mirror and out of the corner of my eye, I was surprised to see someone looking as old as my classmates--me. The quick glance gave me a more accurate assessment of my age than a careful study of my reflection. That difference in perception reminded me of the observer effect--by looking at an object we change it. By looking closely at myself--and no doubt by hoping I look younger--I changed my perception of myself.


The observer effect can easily sway leaders of organizations. Looking closely at our organization, or a piece of it, does not ensure an accurate portrayal of how we are doing. As a result, we need to find other ways to measure our efficacy.


One way that we often dismiss or ignore is our critics. Consider a customer complaint a sidelong glance in the mirror. Before dismissing concerns outright, spend the time to determine if the complaint shines light on how your organization is truly functioning.


Another approach is to hire mystery shoppers to navigate your processes and procedures. That shopper can give you an unbiased perspective of their experience which may be instructive.


In schools, ask and listen carefully to what students say. Students tend to be more candid and honest than adults, and they are experiencing your school in ways that no other constituency is. We often tend to discount students’ views particularly if they are negative, but we do so at our own risk. Students see and tell it as it is.


It is easy to fool ourselves about how well we are doing because we believe we are looking carefully at our organizations. However, often, even with eyes wide open and a great care, we miss what is right before our eyes. Look in different ways.


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