09/09/2013 12:50 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2013

Invisible Cannot Be Seen?

Is that title an oxymoron or what? It is a sad truth of life that some things that a few people can see are invisible to almost everybody else. What can be done about that?

Let me explain by example.

Many years ago when I served in the federal government I had, among other more important things, the responsibility for a big deal reception in a Smithsonian museum for hundreds of DC big shots and a very high level visiting delegation from abroad. A few weeks before the date it dawned on me that I had never seen the invitation and I asked to see it. I was told that by chance it was ready to be mailed that very afternoon; all the more reason to see it immediately.

It was produced. I glanced at it and said this cannot be the final? I was reassured that it was and said it could not be mailed without an important correction. My staff squinted and slowly read for minutes and could not find a flaw. They finally gave up and asked. I pointed out that it was about a half inch off center. They said, "OH! Who cares?" I said I did--it had my name and reputation on it. I called for the printer.

He was dragged finally by midday--still tipsy-- and I told him that if he had been in the private sector he already would be looking for a job and sent him back to redo it properly. He ultimately got it almost centered. I guess that is hard to do, if you have been drinking.

I kept the original copy in my clammy fist for the next week or so and told the story repeatedly and asked what one could do. Everyone asked to see it. And they squinted and read carefully and gave up, except one person who immediately handed back it and simply said "it is off center"--he was the single one out of twenty people who saw it off center.

Similarly, we have had a marvelous housecleaner at home for 25 years. She is a zealot cleaner and I always know when she has dusted the pictures, because they are cockeyed. So I go around the house straightening them out and very often show her the problem. She eagerly agrees to do it right the next time. But it never happens, because she cannot see what is out of kilter.

OK, maybe I am a fussbudget or a nut case. But, basically I know I am an average person with a reasonable upbringing and education, as were almost all the people who saw the invitation in my clenched fist!

I see this problem as a proxy for a very wide spread reality that if people cannot see certain kinds of things, they cannot/should not be held responsible for their failure. It is tantamount to a disability.

Perhaps some of the people who cannot see, whatever it is they are not seeing, is because they do not care or have no concern for details; that may be different?

Other than testing people more carefully before employing them, there is not much than can be done about this problem except to remember that the problem exists and to try constantly to adjust for it by not assuming anything.

Any time you assume, it may make an ass out of u and me!!