Who turned off the lights?

As I stand in an office high above the streets, looking out the window on a beautiful sunlit day, I look below and see a group of employees of a neighboring business, standing outside their door. They’re enjoying a break on a beautiful day. As one of them turns from the group toward the building, not paying attention, he runs into a man who is walking on the sidewalk while, I suppose, reading or sending a text on his phone. He was certainly also not paying attention.  I see his phone fall from his hand and skitter across the sidewalk. Some brief words are exchanged between the two, but then they part.

It occurred to me that neither man was paying attention to what was going on around him. We could say “the lights were on, but nobody was home” in their minds.  What if the first guy had been a phone thief? Or the second guy was a pickpocket? Neither “victim” would have had a clue about what just happened.  But while I shook my head about these two guys, I recalled that there have been times that I’ve driven or even walked from one place to another, and arrived there not really remembering anything about the trip. Or I’ve read something, turned pages, and not really remembered what I’d read.  So who “turned off the lights” in our minds?

Most of us in the security field like to think of ourselves as fairly bright, and fairly attentive. We like to think of ourselves as though we are agents of the U.S. Secret Service, who can see snipers from hundreds of yards away, or spot guns under the shirts of armed assassins from a block away.  A fair and sober self-assessment, however, might show that we aren’t always quite as sharp as we like to think. We are human, after all. The key is, of course, to recognize that we have gaps in our abilities, and then do something to correct those gaps.

Because we are busy, with our business, our families, and trials and tribulations of the day, we often let our minds wander as we search for solutions to our many problems. This causes us to lose focus on our surroundings. Many of us like to think we can multitask, meaning that we can do several things at once. Scientifically well-grounded studies have shown recently, however, that no one is as good at multitasking as they think they are. The better approach has been shown to be serial mono-tasking, in which we accomplish one thing at a time, but reduce the amount of time in transition from one task to another. Try that strategy when dealing with tasks. Do one thing. Finish it as best you can. Then quickly transition to the next task. Then the next. Focus.

Who turned off the lights? We do it to ourselves. We “turn off the lights” by lack of attention to our surroundings. We have too much going on, and lose touch. We start walking around as if we’re in the dark. Just like the guys on the sidewalk, we bump into things that are completely avoidable if we just pay more attention. Turn the lights back on. Open your eyes and your mind.