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.
Both clients have bought into the value of identifying what their blindspots are. Only one of the two though has really committed to any action to then deal with those blindspots (other than going “yep—that’s spot on!” and then ignoring it). At least by publicizing it and talking about it, we have a chance of mitigating a little bit of the blindspot—just turning it into an area of ignorance—perhaps!
How do you spot blindspots? There are a number of techniques. One is too look at what doesn’t get talked about in the organization or what isn’t funded. While that’s not a full-proof way of identifying a blindspot (sometimes something doesn’t get talked about because it isn’t important!), it’s a good starting point. Another is to look what blindspots the organization had in the past and then test to see if those conditions have changed. A third approach is to identify critical assumptions the organization or leadership is making. Assumptions aren’t bad—we have to make them all the time. But most people make assumptions and aren’t aware we’re doing so. It’s either unconscious or we consider them to be “facts.” A fourth approach is to identify the mental models that the leaders and organization share (mental models and assessing them is a topic for another blog post!). Degree of confidence on particular issues is also a clue as to potential blindspots—issues that an organization has had success with in the past and is confident that “we have this nailed” often forecast a cockiness and a failure to look for disconfirming information. Finally, organizational culture (if there is a strong, cohesive, dominant culture within the organization—and usually there isn’t, usually it’s a series of subcultures) can be a clue about blindspots.