Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Look around you right now. If you are looking at your colleague, or if you are looking at the city view from your office window, or if you are looking at the calming waves at the beach, you are looking at history.

Yes, what you think you are seeing right this very second is not real-time at all, but 15 seconds ago.

Vision scientists from UC Berkeley and MIT have discovered that what we see takes 15 seconds to be fully processed by our brains, a cognitive lag time that is necessary to reduce information overload.

If you dabble in photography, you will know that this means cameras and our eyes are radically different. How we see is akin to the post-processing of images, while cameras simply record the light from images onto camera sensors (or film).

Differences between cameras and our eyes

Cameras, especially those with interchangeable or zoom lenses, can zoom in or out of an environment, to focus on a particular area, or widen to the maximum viewable area of a lens. And depending on the aperture set on the lens, we can bring clarity to an entire image (using a high F-stop for a small aperture), or bring clarity only to a smaller area and blur out the rest of the image (using a low F-stop for a larger aperture). Unless we apply digital or software filters, the images approximate what the camera “saw” at that very moment.

Conversely, our eyeballs work differently. It is not a zoom lens and not quite a variable aperture device. Much of our eyesight depends on our immensely complex brains, which act like an artificial aperture and zoom, bringing focus to an image, or blurring out at will. The amount of visual information our brains have to process would cripple many of today’s computers, and according to the neuroscience research, also can cause us problems if all the information cannot be pre-filtered somehow.

How our brains and eyes work in tandem to produce this “continuity field” and allow us to focus intensely on the tasks at hand can also help us as leaders and brand managers

The team of scientists from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and the University of California (Berkeley) showed that in this concept that they called “continuity field,” what we see is basically an averaged result from the past 15 seconds of visual footage, where our brains process it and then feed us what we can accommodate without causing us hallucinations due to information overload. At the same time, this “continuity field” also allows us to use our brain’s powerful post-processing capability to filter out the unnecessary visual details and focus on the details we need to succeed, which is especially evident in high-attention activities such as tennis, racing and piloting a jet. It is akin to a horse with blinders on when racing forward.

It is not about big data, but focus

How our brains and eyes work in tandem to produce this “continuity field” and allow us to focus intensely on the tasks at hand can also help us as leaders and brand managers.

When we are bombarded with various stimuli, whether it be our competition, the economy, the stock market, trends in our industries, manpower changes, cash flow, etc, we cannot and should not react to everything we see around us. Some stimuli are useless. Some stimuli can wait. Some stimuli can do with some mental digestion. Some need discussion and collaboration before decisions can be made.

There are some practitioners who would ingest every single bit of information by the container load and hope to find sanity through an obsession with analytics. Unfortunately, even with colossal teams of PhDs and supercomputers, digesting huge piles of information requires prudence, patience and steady nerves. Those with fiery tempers and knee-jerk nerves are bad candidates for dealing with information overload.

The “big data” camp certainly hoped that every organization would indulge in an endless digestion of data. But I have to concur with fellow observer Bernard Marr: we need to focus and not lose track of things.

Information should not be indiscriminately collected. Practitioners must learn to zoom in on what is potentially useful, study it efficiently, and then collect only those bits of information judiciously and expediently so that whatever information remains in a report or dashboard will be the absolutely essential to making agile and smart business and marketing decisions. Everything else belongs to that huge pile at the far end of the “to be recycled” dump.

Get agile, adapt to change

I have always ascribed to the “agile” and “lean” paradigms even before I read about them, and when I did, I instantly realized why we can move faster and more nimbly than others.

The Agile Manifesto, though originally intended for software development, can easily be adapted for business processes as well, focusing on the necessary, rather than drilling down to endless details of data, procedures, documentation and plans. After all, the only constant today is change.

We must not lose ourselves in the pursuit of mere information in the temporary fashion of big data, but find wisdom and intelligence in what we seek. Our own human construct has shown us to be the best example to manage our brands and our businesses through fuzzy logic, averaging and focus.

At the end of the day, a successful brand’s only focus is its longevity, and that can only happen when customers love it emotionally and passionately enough to buy it again and again. It is really that simple.

Seamus Phan

Seamus Phan is a professional speaker, published author, and artist. He straddles between the creative and technology spheres, and has great interest in studying Asian cultures, philosophies, leadership, and branding. On the side, he is an artist specializing in Chinese brush painting.

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