Blindspots Revisited

Some of you may recall a previous blog post I did on Blindspots (“Understanding Blindspots”).  A quick refresher about that concept before I take another crack about that topic—we have areas of ignorance—things we don’t know but usually we’re it’s a weakness or deficiency.  For instance, I know nothing about horse riding or dressage–I’m aware that is an area of ignorance for me.  Then we have blindspots—areas we not only don’t know about but we don’t know that we don’t know.  In other words, blindspots are particularly dangerous because unlike an area of ignorance (where we might tread lightly or avoid because we know it’s a weakness or we’re cautious), blindspots typically involve overconfidence.  Individuals can have blindspots and organizations can as well—in fact, most examples of military or intelligence failures involve blindspots.

I wanted to revisit this topic because I’ve been working with two recent clients on their strategy, plans and high-level goals.  One client is in the US intelligence community and another is in the private sector (plus plays in the national security space).  A key part of both pieces of work has involved identifying the collective blindspots within each organization.   While I’ve done work like this plenty of times before in my career, it’s always fascinating to see what emerges as a blindspot within the client organization. Continue reading

Gulf Oil and Performance Lessons

With some labeling the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as the worst environmental disaster the USA has ever experienced, it’s worth looking at what we know so far about efforts to deal with the spill for performance improvement lessons.  As I look at what I’ve heard about this disaster, several critical lessons come to my mind.

  1. Ignore process at your own peril.  There has been such an emphasis on “action” and “leadership” (both by private and public sector organizations) that we’ve seen lots of money, people and activity–but often at cross-purposes.  Throwing money and resources at any problem is usually ineffective when there is no clear alignment around the process connecting all of the specific tasks.
  2. It’s a lot easier to prevent a problem than to fix a mistake.  The Gulf Oil spill illustrates this point so well–far better and easier to prevent the rig blowout than to clean up tar balls from beaches and try to bathe birds. Continue reading

HTML5 & the Future of Media on the Web

When Apple solidified its stance regarding Flash on the iOS platform (or, the lack thereof), an up-and-coming web standard was suddenly cast into the spotlight.  HTML5 was a new open source and standardized version of the HTML standard (HyperText Markup Language; the basis for all modern web browsing) which had been in development since mid-2004, with the first tentative release in 2007.  Incorporating features of HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, the previous mid-life additions to the HTML standard, as well as features of Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight.

Notable additions were drag-and-drop site interaction (very common on the web, thanks to XHTML, developed throughout the mid-2000s) and, more significantly, audio and video playback.  Instead of requiring a 3rd party plugin, such as Flash or Silverlight, or a 3rd party playback codec, such as Quicktime or Windows Media Player, HTML5 could play properly encoded audio and video straight from the browser.  This significantly simplified the prospective future landscape of media on the web.  Instead of being dependent on the development pace of Adobe or Microsoft, web developers were freed to contract their own web plugins taking advantage of the new standards. Continue reading

Understanding Blindspots

I’ve been doing work on strategic and strategic planning with a number of different clients lately and it’s gotten me thinking about the issue of blindspots. There are things that we know to be true (or we suspect them to be so). I don’t mean dogma or blind faith, but rather through data, research, experience, customer feedback, measuring performance—there are some things that we can confidently say “this is something that we know to be true or accurate.”

Then we have areas that we know we don’t know. For instance, I know that I’m pretty uninformed about the tax code. Because of my awareness of my ignorance, I can make smarter decisions about taxes—by hiring an accountant. Or being especially careful when I fill out my taxes each year.

The reality is that no person or organization can know everything. So ignorance about particular topics or situations is a reality of being in the world.

But a blindspot occurs when a person or organization is ignorant about a situation and doesn’t realize the ignorance exists. It may be due to dogma. It may be because the situation has changed—what used to be true no longer is but people haven’t recognized that. It may be due to a lack of depth—someone doesn’t realize the degree of complexity to a particular issue. In short, a blindspot is a case where we don’t know that we don’t know something.

Blindspots are particularly damaging to organizations. That’s because most big surprises (especially environmental or market ones) to organizations tend to occur because of a collection blindspot that meant the organization and executives simply failed to perceive the potential for surprise with that specific issue.