My childhood home was a horror movie set. A crumbling facade failed to hide a century old building, and a leaky roof failed to protect it from rain. The smell of wet walls invaded from all sides. The entrance door squeaked, as expected. The hallway lights never worked, and boards nailed over broken windows blocked any street light. I was terrified getting to our apartment.
After living there for more than twenty years, I stopped seeing it as an old and scary building. Instead, it became my home. My family was there, and my friends visited every week. I had grown from a baby to a man and experienced everything from joy to sorrow in that small apartment. Experiences and memories transformed my perception.
I live far away today. When I visit, I enter the building and images of old walls and wavy ceiling hit my retinas. My brain doesn’t register them. My brain brings up childhood memories.
I’m not in an old building. I’m at home.
It took me thirty years to become aware of this illusion. And mind you, I cherish it. However, it got me thinking about work. Can the same thing happen with something we’re working on at the moment? Can we become so familiar and comfortable that we’re unable to see our work objectively anymore? How can we redesign a software product, further medical research, or improve customer service in that case?
Recovering from a self-imposed illusion is hard. I’m even suspecting that it might be impossible if left for too long, the same way I can’t perceive the old building anymore.
Two options come to mind:
Bring in someone new
My wife told me recently that she was scared when she first visited my home. I can imagine why even though I experienced it differently. Having someone come in from outside and give honest feedback is a great way to break an illusion.
Sometimes it’s too hard to detach or hear the truth. If you’re not providing value, the best course of action might be to walk away. Take on a different effort where you’ll be that new person with a fresh perspective.