New Normal Consulting | Something I struggle to remember: Often, you don’t see things until you really look.
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Something I struggle to remember: Often, you don’t see things until you really look.

Katie Schultz stick bug photo

Something I struggle to remember: Often, you don’t see things until you really look.

Human beings have a selective focus, and a cognitive bias towards limiting distraction. It’s why we can stand in Times Square and let ourselves be taken in by the light show, and the buskers who make the street a theater, but not consciously register the hundreds of ad impressions that are bombarding us every minute, or the homeless people huddled in corners and along the margins where buildings meet the concrete.

Our internal filters are set by default to limit distraction, and to maintain our sense of the world. This is true in particular when we go someplace new and dazzling – like Times Square – but even more so when we are in a familiar space. The common stick bug bets its life on the fact that we won’t see it, even when we’re hanging out on the bouldering pad and it’s right in front of our eyes.

Most of us stop noticing the stain on the carpet at home where one of the kids let the Silly-Putty sit for too long. Most often, we don’t see dings on our own walls, or wind blown leaves piled high beneath the hedgerows along our own fences. We go to the neighborhood bar for margaritas, and don’t notice the rime of spilled salsa on the tile under the barstool, even when it sticks to our shoes. (As long as the drinks are flowing, and there’s salt on the rim, we’re GOOD.) So the truth is that most places you go, you’ll only see things that you wouldn’t notice otherwise unless you REALLY look. But you have to REALLY look…

(The one consistent exception I’ve found: Disneyland. If there’s salsa on the tile there, look more closely because it was likely painted there by artists to give the restaurant some authenticity. But this is the subject of another post…)

And so it goes with our businesses. The older they are, the more patina we overlook. Our internal filters make us blind to it, and sometimes this blindness is also a conscious decision. For instance, in Boulders Climbing Gym – a business I founded and have run now for twenty-one years – until recently I chose not to see the scars on the office door, put there by a former manager who accidentally locked himself out and decided to use a crowbar to let himself back in. We’re replacing the door and the frame now, but only after years of people painting over the gouges that this one impetuous guy left for all of us to remember him by.

Most businesses out there have similar scars, and sometimes they’re not simple gouges as much as they are systemic blind spots. When something has momentum, even if it’s moving over significant friction the movement continues, and we become blind to everything but the movement. In business, movement forward is seen as good, even if daily we’re not seeing the scars that time always leaves behind for us to see — scars that could be holding us back from a more profitable future.

And we won’t see them, until we really look.

So today, we start a series of posts about what happens when we really look. The subject of our deep scrutiny: The Boulders Climbing Gym Pro Shop. As with all other climbing gyms, our retail component has never been our primary focus. People literally pay us to to touch our walls and breathe our chalk-filled air. If they happen to buy something while they are there, most often we’ve considered this a bonus.

Let’s see if we can do retail better. We won’t see, until we really look…

Keep your eyes open, and watch this space.

Many thanks to Katie Schultz for the one-time use of her copyrighted image. Learn more about the photographers who graciously provide us with images to use on this website by going to Meet Our Photographers

Brad Werntz

For over thirty years, Brad Werntz has been exclusively employed in the outdoor industry: As a guide and outfitter, a writer and speaker, as specialty retail staff and management, a marketer, and entrepreneur. For twenty-two years PEMBAserves – the sales agency that Brad founded – represented high-end brands to the outdoor industry’s most respected and influential retailers. Brad also founded Boulders Climbing Gym in Madison, Wisconsin and has been its managing member since 1996. Brad is an early-adopter and an innovator who has consistently asked and answered the question: “How is this going to end up?” To Brad, this question is as much about predicting an outcome as it is about influencing it. Brad is very active in the Outdoor Industry Association, and is currently on its Recreational Advisory Council. Brad has served on other environmental, and outdoor industry boards. Brad is the founder and board president of the Wisconsin Business Alliance.

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