Seeing the Blind Spots
I recently helped to facilitate a business simulation exercise for a client group of
participants in a leadership development program. These occasions always provide valuable insights to both players in the game and observers alike, and this one was no different. The rapid pace and complexity of the action, aided by a sophisticated computer program that allowed multiple “companies” to compete in the simulated marketplace, made the game all too real for those who played it.
This time, my big insight was how easy it is for smart, successful executives to miss
the warning signs, sometimes very explicit, of impending crises. It’s awfully hard to dodge a bullet when you never even see it coming. Yet sometimes the information is right there in front of you, and you literally can’t see it. How does this happen?
In the simulation, there were a couple of examples of this type of situation; the information came in the form of an email to the appropriate manager, who than had
several choices: he could read it and act on his own, forward it up his chain of command, or do nothing and wait for the situation to develop further. I watched as several players ignored the email, some not even opening it, including both the lower-level manager and the VP or CEO to whom it was forwarded. The lesson here: we are so inundated by information, coming in via so many channels, that any single communication can easily fall through the cracks.
In other instances, I saw players read the message, but fail to recognize the potential for serious or even catastrophic consequences. One reason might have been that since the information was delivered without much context, it didn’t really fit any of the players’ mental models, and so it simply didn’t register with them. Another lesson: we become so attached to our interpretations of reality that we don’t always see the discontinuities.
Many of the players, including those in “C”- level roles, stayed at the tactical level, mired in the details of operations. There was more to do than there was time to do it, a condition familiar to all the mid-level managers participating in the simulation. When the press of daily business engulfs you, it’s often hard to see the importance of anything that doesn’t require immediate action. One more lesson: if we never look up from
where we are right now, we’ll never be able to take the long view.
One of the biggest steps from manager to leader is to develop the ability to think strategically. As we see from the simulation, this entails a lot more than writing a really boffo strategic plan. Strategic thinkers carry that perspective with them no matter what the work they are engaged in at any given moment. They have learned to constantly
scan the horizon – and their immediate environment – for departures from the usual patterns, for things that don’t belong in the scene, for things that should be there but are missing. They understand what kind of events or action could spell trouble, having thought through possible scenarios in advance. They check their own assumptions about the world periodically and challenge themselves to explore the “what-ifs.” They
tune into their own intuition, in conjunction with what they know about the situation. And they encourage everyone in the organization to think independently and to develop their own capacity for strategic thinking.
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It’s a good idea to gather your team together after they have weathered a storm or handled an especially difficult problem – successfully or not. Lead them through a real-time “post mortem” of how the problem or issue developed: in retrospect, what was the first indication that something might
be wrong? Did anybody notice it? If so, what did they do with the information? Is there an established way to communicate concerns like this? Who was told about the developing situation? How did they handle it? Was the information shared with the whole team? Were other team members asked if they had any related information? What would you do differently next time?
Starbucks spends more money in one year on health insurance for its employees than it spends on coffee for its customers.
Almost 70% of American children through middle school are taught math and science by teachers without degrees in those fields.
Lost-productivity costs as a result of domestic violence add up to $727.8 million
annually, and 7.9 million paid workdays are lost a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.. were teens. But that number dropped to 18% in 2004, and more declines are likely.
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Executive Coach, Strategy Consultant
Principal, Bloomfield Associates
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