Jul 16

What are you not seeing…

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What are you not seeing…

Interesting recent article on the BBC (written by Matthew Syed) about how Gareth Southgate has approached his role as the England football team manager.


Sometime the issue is not what we see, but what we don’t see. The image above is of a Kanizsa square – which we’ll expand on a little more in a moment. For most people the Kanizsa figure triggers the perception of an actual square existing by tricking the brain into filling in the missing information. In reality there are only four ‘pac man’ shapes (circles with a quarter taken out).

These shapes were created by Italian psychologist Gaetano Kanizsa in 1955. Gestalt psychologists use the Kanizsa Triangle to describe the law of closure, which claims that objects grouped together are seen as a whole. This means that we perceive objects as being whole even when they are incomplete; we ignore gaps and we complete contour lines to form familiar figures and shapes.

For example, in the Kanizsa Triangle Illusion below we readily perceive three black circles and two triangles, even though there are technically no circles or triangles in the image.

Because we all see the triangles, the triangles must be there… we need a wider perspective to convince ourselves that what we are seeing isn’t actually what is there in reality. This is the issue with groupthink; the group often constrains itself and doesn’t actually see what is happening in reality or worse – convincing themselves of the accuracy of the picture.

This is a very modern phenomenon – think of echo chambers on social media where like-minded people share very narrow perspectives to the detriment of any wider debate.

The Advisory Board

The BBC report that right from the beginning, as England team coach, Southgate wanted to open himself up to new ideas. So he created the FA Technical Advisory Group which comprises an ‘eclectic’ group to advise on team performance. For example one member is Colonel Lucy Giles, a college commander at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

This didn’t go down well with football insiders who eschewed the idea that the national team could get any fresh insights from such a group of non-footballers. This sounds very much like the idea of groupthink that we set out above.

Instead Southgate was quoted as saying “I like listening to people who know things that I don’t, which is how you learn”.

Southgate recognised that he might have the same issue with the England football team, if he only sought opinions from the world of football. You can also ask the question, what did he have to learn about football at this stage in his career?

Southgate has also expanded this thinking to his coaching team, seeking to make this as diverse as possible on the basis that injecting fresh thinking helps everyone to perform better.

Dealing with groupthink

What we learn from this is that we should seek different perspectives. One of Southgates Advisory Board is Dave Brailsford, who famously leveraged the 1% improvement idea to help the GB Olympic cycling team achieve unprecedented success.

If you are cocooned in a bubble of thought that doesn’t stretch your thinking, or ties your thinking to a group ‘norm’, then you will probably deny yourself the opportunity to learn and improve.

Diversity is key. In the Emperor’s New Clothes, everyone colluded with the idea that the clothes were of silk that was so fine, it was invisible. It took the perspective of someone uninitiated in the thinking to see things for what they really were. The benefit of diversity is massively overlooked – we need different world views to save us from the trap of we all agree ‘because we all think the same’.

See things differently

Whilst the team didn’t win Euro 2020, they progresses the furthest any England team has done in a major tournament since 1966. If that isn’t a convincing argument for widening your perspective, what is?

If you need a little help to see things a little differently, or to bring things into view from any blind spots, why not give us a call? Coaching is a really good way of creating space to take in the landscape and gain important perspective.

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