During a discussion about why an employee was not doing so well, Dan, his boss, told me that the fellow spent too much time perseverating. Laughing at hearing this unusual word, I responded, “Perseverating. It has such a nice ring to it. What does it mean?”
Dan proceeded to explain that perseverating means navel gazing.
Not entirely satisfied with this definition, I looked up the official meaning of the word and found that perseverating means: continuation of something usually to an exceptional degree or beyond a desired point.
Indeed, that sounded like navel gazing, but to be sure, I looked that term up as well. Navel gazing: excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.
That settled it. Excessive contemplation and continuing something to an exceptional degree seem synonymous.
After hearing Dan use perseverating as a reason for an employee’s poor performance and digging into its meanings, lightning struck. Past discussions about less than stellar employee performance floated through my thoughts. Perseverating was indeed the cause in numerous cases.
It was a matter of people getting stuck on an idea “beyond a desired point” and being unable to move past it or take a wider view. Once they began perseverating about something they got caught in confirmation bias. They were only seeing information that fed into their idea while ignoring everything that challenged it.
It turns out our brains are wired this way. We tend to see what we expect and ignore the rest. We notice what we’ve been thinking about while everything else fades into the background.
I just bought a new car. A five-year-old Mercedes C300. I never had such a nice car. Suddenly I see Mercedes everywhere. I’m sure I’ve always driven past the same number of Mercedes, I just never noticed them until I enjoyed one of my own.
Funny thing is, now that I’ve been thinking about perseverating I realize that I never really see the other cars I drive past. So I don’t make you nervous, I assure you I see the cars around me but they’re all the same brand: automobile. Except for Mercedes.
Perseverating is one of the reasons so many things are done using old ideas and methods. It’s one of the reasons new eyes can often immediately see ways to improve things that navel gazers never notice.
There are times when perseverating is fine. I enjoy doing some navel gazing while going for a walk in the woods and while basking in the glow of other Mercedes. It’s not something I do while speaking with clients or writing my missives or sitting alone contemplating client problems I’ve been asked to think about.
Since hearing Dan’s perseverating story, I’ve adopted this new word. It’s become quite useful in discussions about employee problems. It often leads to bemused looks which turn into smiles as in many cases, suddenly the root of the problem and possible solutions become clear.