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.

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.

Performance – And Performance Appraisals

Intellectually, everyone gets the value of performance appraisals.  Yet every client I’ve ever encountered usually bemoans the process and most employees criticize the appraisals.  Why is something that should have so much value end up being so belittled?

Organizations do lots of things wrong when it comes to reviews.  There is a tendency to spring the final evals on employees as a surprise.  I have lost count of the number of people who told me that they came out of their appraisal session in shock—having heard things they didn’t expect.  One basic rule of the formal appraisal is that nothing in that session should come as a surprise to the employee—it’s just a formal meeting to review and sign-off on informal coaching and counseling that went on earlier during the year.  Another issue is the tendency for managers to put off appraisals until the last possible moment.  There are lots of reasons this happens.  In some cases, it’s about avoiding unpleasantness or confrontation.  In others, it’s because it’s a hassle to do the appraisal paperwork and prepare for it—often because the criteria are so subjective. Continue reading “Performance – And Performance Appraisals”

Natural Talent? I Think Not.

We’ve probably all heard a reference to someone as having “natural talent” or being “particularly gifted in an area” or even being a prodigy.  Such claims are often made about athletes or musicians but you will hear them about just about any kind of profession.  And they’re complete bunk.

Professor Anders Ericsson at Florida State is the leading researcher into what has now become known as “Genius Research”.  Ericsson and others look at what it takes for someone to become an outstanding performer in their field.  What they’ve found out is that raw talent, even physical ability (like size in football or height in basketball) make very little difference in determining whether or not someone becomes great or not.  Instead, it’s primarily about two different factors:

  • How much you practice
  • How well you practice

Let’s take a look at each of these factors. Continue reading “Natural Talent? I Think Not.”