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.

Day One Problems

Jim Fuller is a great performance consultant with a couple of fine books to his credit.  He also played a key role in getting performance consulting functioning within Hewlett-Packard.  It was also Jim who introduced me to the concept of a “Day One Problem.”

A “Day One Problem” is a situation where things have never worked from day one.  It’s an engine that never ran, the customer fulfillment process that was mixed up from the start, the sales department that never met quota, or the team that was always substandard with their work products.  Why do we care about whether or not a problem is a “Day One Problem” or not?

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A Few Thoughts About Motivation

Motivation is one of the most common work-related issues I hear from clients (“these people are unmotivated” or “we want high scores on the climate survey to improve everyone’s motivation”).  Yet motivation, especially from a performance perspective, tends to be oversimplified by most managers and executives.

First, no-one (well, other than perhaps someone who’s dead) is completely unmotivated.  We all have motivation.  It’s simply not true that a group of employees is unmotivated.  The problem is that motivation is usually a complex issue with a range of factors playing a role.  I may want to do a good job and get praise from my supervisor.  But I also don’t want to end up doing work that some slacker didn’t do—that isn’t fair.  And while I may believe in working hard I also don’t want to have to stay late and get caught in bad rush-hour traffic.  Plus, my favorite TV series is on tonight and we’re having an early dinner so I’m preoccupied by those thoughts.  And I like dealing with the immediate project I’ve been assigned but find two members of my project team to be boring or irritating so I want to spend as little time with them as possible.  And our staff meetings run on too long.  As a result, I work hard but try to look busy as quitting time approaches and on Tuesday I’m going to come up with any excuse I can to avoid extra work or find a reason to duck out early (while on Wednesdays I’m willing to stay late) and I have a reputation for sweating the small stuff and producing good work product. Continue reading