What Filters Do You Have?

I’m in London this week, teaching and speaking. I’m having a blast.

When I made reservations at this hotel, I asked many questions. I looked for a hotel where I could reserve a walk-in shower. I know that many hotels in London have no facilities for handicapped people, so I asked. Yes, this one did. I peppered the reservation agent with questions, and I finally made a reservation here.

I arrived on Sunday morning. My room wasn’t quite ready—not a surprise. Most of the US-to-Europe flights are red-eyes, which I think is nuts. The flights aren’t long enough—just six hours—so I don’t sleep enough, and these two weeks, the time zone change between Boston and London is is just four hours. I was happy to sit with my computer and write before I had lunch with my cousins. No problem.

When I saw my room, there was a problem. I did not have a walk-in shower. I had specifically requested a room with a walk-in shower. I’d asked for a double room, because I needed space for my “stuff.” I’m teaching experiential workshops, and I needed spaced for my equipment: cards, stickies, tape, but I was sure I could deal with that. I needed the walk-in shower.

All the double rooms with walk-in showers are upstairs on the first floor. There is no elevator in this hotel. My double room with a bath tub is on the ground floor. This is a problem. What am I going to do? I need a shower.

I tried to take a shower on Sunday. The tub is very high off the ground. It’s difficult for me to get in and out. I did that first day, but it’s not safe. What am I going to do?

My cousin asked, “Is there a chair in the room?”

“Yes. At the desk.”

“Can you pull it over to the tub and use it to get in?”

Aha! I can. I can cover the chair with a towel. I can use the chair to get in the tub and get out. It’s not easy, but it’s much better than trying to balance and get in and out without the chair.

My mental models—my filters—had left the chair at the desk. It was a desk chair. It wasn’t a tool for the bathtub.

Filters prevent us from seeing what is available to us, to solve our problems. It doesn’t make us bad people. Our filters prevent us from seeing a complete picture of the problem, or of the solution.

I have now used the chair all week, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It’s a good solution. Is it better than a walk-in shower? No. Is it better than moving to a hotel room where I would have steps? Yes. Is it better than moving to a less-convenient hotel? Yes.

Do I know what other questions to ask, when I look for a hotel in London again? Oh, yes.

It never occurred to me that a hotel would not have an elevator. My filters didn’t allow for that. I have expanded my filters now.

Filters are funny things. They form our mental models of how we solve problems. They prevent us from seeing possibilities.

What do your filters prevent you from seeing or hearing or experiencing? I may never look at a desk chair the same way again.

8 thoughts on “What Filters Do You Have?

  1. Susan

    Johanna – I find that children don’t tend to look at things as adults do. They have taught me a lot about perspective and how to be clear when giving instructions. Filters fit neatly into this as well. I still remember my youngest using a bookcase as a ladder when she was still a tot.

    Enjoy London – you picked a good week for the weather!

    1. johanna Post author

      Susan, children definitely do not look at things as adults do. OMG, a bookcase as a ladder. Shiver me timbers!

      London has been wonderful. The weather has been quite a respite from our cold Boston weather!

  2. Terry Wiegmann

    Hi Johanna – I’ve been thinking about how filters can reveal biases we have and how they can block us from, for example, delight, appreciation and celebration of inventiveness. During a presentation earlier this week, I showed a pic of an item used unconventionally to solve a problem (similar to your desk/bath chair) and realized that in some circles in the US it would have been met with derisive comments about rednecks; in others, it would be acclaimed as Yankee Ingenuity! Filters can serve a purpose but they can also do disservice. Thanks @joeastolfi for helping me become aware of mine!

    1. johanna Post author

      Hi Terry, for me, it’s about being aware of my filters. Of course, I’m not aware of them most of them time. (Sigh.) But with this story, I realized I can try more often.

      That Joe, he’s a sharp cookie!

  3. Liz

    This is an important post, Johanna! Thank you for sharing it. I’m struggling with filters right now as I try to identify and define best practices for a new department. Enjoy London!

    1. johanna Post author

      Liz, isn’t it interesting how practices are so context-dependent? What’s “best” in one location/department might not be best at all in another. Good luck.

  4. Sheryl K.

    Hi Johanna – that reminds me of this old brainteaser:

    “A man and his son were in an car accident. The man died on the way to the hospital, but the boy was rushed into surgery. The surgeon said “I can’t operate, that’s my son!” How is this possible?”

    Clearly it’s likely the surgeon is his mother – but the filter (part because the father is mentioned and part because surgeons are more often associated as being men) definitely blocks that answer as the first one that pops into most people’s heads.

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