Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Our Blind Spots

The other day, a colleague sent an article by Elaine Duke titled, "Why Acquisition Programs Fail."   The article represents the careful thoughts and heartfelt feelings of an experienced professional.  The ideas seemed, however, to be stuck within the paradigm of what exists today and the author's expectation of what it is possible to change.

Many times in my career I have encountered a problem and explored it to its root causes.  When I start to discuss my solution concepts, I often hear, "'Yes, that's true, but it's above my pay grade to fix.'  Meaning that the constraints of the organizational hierarchy, personalities, policies, and performance assessments are preventing a real solution from emerging.

This is why I believe it is very important to have eyes that look from the outside in.  These are eyes that can understand the context of the problem, can look at the systems which cause or influence the situation, and conceptualize a future that may be very different from the comfortable present.  This view of a situation can be formalized within an organization, such as with a quality control process or red team reviews, or it can come troublesome individuals.

Formal processes can be effective, especially when the success of the venture is utmost in participant's minds.  However, sometimes the process itself becomes more important than the outcome.  In these cases, the people protecting the independent process are in a position to subvert success in the name of uniformity.  It is ironic that a process that is designed to escape the commonplace can fail when it too becomes commonplace.

The individual approach can be very effective in an environment in which independent insights are welcomed and appreciated.  This is not usually the case in large organizations.  The prestige of decision makers often does not allow for critical thinking and loose cannons.  Policy and custom can prevent the independent inputs from reaching the right ears and so they are categorized as gripe rather than value.

One of the most intriguing lessons I ever had in school was of the Johari Window, a perception model taken from psychology.  The image to the right is taken from HubPages where you can review the model in more detail.  The four panes of the window represent what is known by us and what is known about us by others.  On the left, are things that are known to us.  On the right side are things that are unknown to us, but may be known by others.  The Blind Spot illustrates the the situation where outside eyes see things you are not able to.

Since it is a psychological fact that all of us have these blind spots, one would think that organizations would incorporate processes for addressing the blind spot into their culture at all levels.  These processes should be a high priority especially for dealing with causes that are 'above our pay grade.'  However, all too often they are not included in an organization's policies and procedures, and this situation places the organization at risk.

At Aileron yesterday, I learned that their Course for [company] Presidents emphasizes the importance of a board of advisers.  In fact, they help their client/students to assemble a board as part of their mentoring experience.  They recognize the criticality of addressing the blind spot.

If we continue to apply the Johari model to organizations, I might characterize the Unknown Spot as the Innovation Quadrant.  This is the area where unknowns exist.  It calls to mind images of dark, perilous forests that can be traversed only with great effort and sacrifice.  My daydream ends with the discovery of untold beauty and bounty.  Of course there is risk to exploring this terrain.  One could become lost and trapped.  One could discover things that are not so pleasant.  One could perish.  In my opinion, the physical, emotional and spiritual treks into the unknowns have led to the greatest rewards.  What else would you expect from a loose cannon?

No comments:

Post a Comment