Simply Expressing the Obvious, Obviously?

Sometimes you get lost at the worst possible time.

A few years ago I was asked to edit an Excel document as part of a skills test for a possible contract position.  It was an intricate exercise, one that involved copying formatting from one Excel workbook and the content of another into an entirely new file with three worksheets.

Does your head hurt yet?

BDr7sR6KjraTo accomplish this task I spent several hours focused on the details.

My process included making sure all of the columns and rows were the same width and height, that the fonts and cell alignments were identical, that there were no spelling errors, and that there were correct comments for specific cells.

I even made sure there were 1,925 rows in one document — more than 1,000 of which were blank.

I also made sure to replace one phrase with another wherever it appeared (as I had been instructed). Remember that part (hint: foreshadowing).

When I thought I was done I looked it over. And then looked it over again. All of the content seemed to be in the right places; nothing appeared out of sorts. Apparently, however, I am blind — even with my glasses.

Remember how I mentioned foreshadowing? Well, as it turns out, much like those signs that read “Keep of The The Grass” I overlooked several instances where one word needed to be swapped with another.

One word. That I missed. Completely.

When I looked again with fresh eyes it jumped out at me from its hiding spot in the main headers. But why hadn’t I seen it before? And then I discovered the quote below from Khalil Gibran, which seemed to explain my experience:

“The obvious is that which is never seen until someone expresses it simply.” — Khalil Gibran

Sometimes, in the heat of a matter, we forget the simple things — we lose sight of the forest for the trees. It’s easy to get caught up in details and forget the bigger picture, but doing so is important.

The goal, it would seem, is learning how to simply express the obvious; to become more aware by stepping outside of our focus and then refocusing.

Have you had a similar experience? If so, what strategy do you recommend to avoid making similar errors in the future? Maybe the answer is to focus intently on not focusing?