What Leaders Allow Themselves to Know

A few examples are given of serious blunders made by leaders when they are expected to have had the information in advance that would have made them aware of the potential for disaster. The author asserts that it's a matter of selective attention (or selective inattention) that causes leaders to overlook what's right in front of their faces.

The problem has become worse over time, as the increasing amount of information available to a single person has ballooned - there's just too much information to pay attention to it all, so we filter it to block out what's relevant. These filters can block critical information simply because it doesn't match the criteria set by our filters.

The problem of filtering is that the filters are set in advance, by our preconceived notions of what is important, such that news that doesn't met these conditions, however germane, does not get through.

These filters apply not only to information, but also to people: while leaders will generally agree that "yes-men" are of little value, they generally surround themselves, and give their primary attention to, those who agree with them and support their agenda, and relegate naysayers to the back seat, even if the naysayers are thoughtful and well-meaning.

The alternative to such filtering is information overload. The author cites a cultural phrase, "tired ears" for a person who has heard so much that things no longer make sense to them - who are still listening, but are no longer really paying attention.

Additionally, leaders tend to rely upon a limited spectrum of information sources - they look to certain channels to provide certain kinds of information, and reply upon it. Because these channels have provided them with sufficient and reliable information in the past, they do not seek additional sources who will contribute additional information or provide a different perspective on the facts.