As a whole, humans seem to accept that they will die but seem to have a keen interest in precisely how it happens. We fixate on rare events like shark attacks and plane crashes. While those do seem like terrible ways to die, they aren’t very common. It would be much more rational to care about the likelihood of death than the method. But the medical establishment has to run entire advertising campaigns just to get us to go see the doctor for routine – but potentially life-saving — check-ups. We should worry more about heart disease than we seem to.

We make this mistake all the time. We focus on mechanism at the expense of substance.

The place I see this most often in my job is how people respond to feedback. We care a lot about how people give feedback to us. If someone is whiny or aggressive we give ourselves permission to discount the substance of their feedback even though the two are unrelated. While it is worth guiding people towards more effective feedback, we only hurt ourselves and our products when we fail to find the value in even poorly delivered critique. The best of us learn to embrace our most ardent critics.

Once you spot this pattern you will see it everywhere. But it still takes work to set your ego aside and listen. I really do want my wife’s advice on my appearance. But the way I get that advice still seems to matter a great deal to me. I am working on it.