On a flight today several very odd things happened. First, a woman in 4A kept her earphones in while taxing and take off. Normally, I wouldn’t notice but she appeared to be having a conversation with someone. Well, maybe. Her end of it was darn near unintelligible. Then the dancing while in seat began, confirming that she was having an experience all her own. Soon the other passengers were making eye contact with one another and speculating about why she was acting so bizarre.

The flight attendants, you know those people who are suppose to make you turn off your electronic devices so the plane won’t explode (or whatever), were oblivious. Perhaps it was the screaming toddler in the first row or, no..maybe the shrieking young child in the second row that had them confounded. I doubt it. What had them so engaged? Ah, their banal conversation. Vacuous though it was, they were engaged in it as though discovering the origins of the universe.

Flight attendants are suppose to pay attention. The electronic devices are not suppose to be on-but ya’ll know that. Yet, more often than not I find myself on a flight where they give up. Those who cannot part with their device simply refuse to turn them off. Flight attendants plead to hundreds of people when it is one or two that need whacking. Is there some prohibition against addressing the offending party directly, unless they are a celebrity (Alec Baldwin)?

Fortunately my observations of such chicanery have not been associated with any bodily harm. But, neither are many of the observations people make in organizations all around the world. Just when you think it’s safe to be oblivious, something will happen that will be the death of your strategy, your business or you.

Flight crews have lengthy procedures to help them pay attention. Surgeons and those who assist in operating rooms, likewise. Manufacturing facilities that make consumables and pharmaceuticals must never take their eye off the ball. Obliviousness can be life-threatening in these situations.

In business, taking your eye off the ball or keeping it on the wrong ball can lead to loss in myriad ways. The challenge is, humans are great at focusing on what they set their sights on. What gets measured gets done is a bromide too often recited by people with focus on a single tactic.Those who are very effective, either as individuals or corporately, are better at scanning the horizon while still maintaining appropriate attention on operational detail. For us mere mortals we must devise simple processes that ensure we attend to what is immediately salient while also observing the broader landscape.

Leaders make sure that strategy doesn’t die on the alter of attention to the wrong thing.

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