What’s a blind spot?
Technically, the blind spot is where the optic nerve leaves the retina to send signals to your brain. Because there are no sensors for visual information at that point, it is physically your blind spot.
There’s also the blind spot in your car. As the driver, there is a zone outside the car that you cannot see in your mirrors or while you are at the controls. You must physically turn your head to see it.
And finally, there are your mental or psychological blind spots. These are beliefs or aspects of our personalities of which we simply cannot be aware.
We all have blind spots, whether we know it or not. If it is just you and the people around you who are impacted by your blind spots, that’s bad enough. If you’re hurling down the highway at 70 mph and you forget to check your blind spots, that can be deadly. But if your business is suffering because you hold outdated or wrong beliefs, that is simply an avoidable tragedy.
You probably can’t do much about the physical retinal blind spot or the ones in your car, but you can correct your psychological blind spots. By setting up systematic feedback loops, and reviewing them on a regular basis, you can change the way your blind spots drive your behavior.
John Dame and Jeffrey Gedwin in the Harvard Business Review identify three tips for fighting blind spots:
- Have a devil’s advocate. Many blind spots are caused by confirmation bias, or a human’s tendency to interpret information in a way that fits our pre-conceived notions about a situation or problem. If you are already inclined to believe you don’t like Japanese food, you probably won’t enjoy sushi for lunch. The good news is the first step in combatting confirmation bias is being aware of it. Once you admit you may have confirmation bias, you can evaluate new information and adjust your beliefs. And we often can’t do this ourselves, so we need a smart, tough, sometimes contentious circle of advisors who keep us in check.
- Keep a running record. Don’t trust your memory as it can be selective about what happened, what worked, and what didn’t work. This is known as hindsight bias: human’s tendency to remember things incorrectly, to pick those things we like to confirm a theory about something that has already happened. Being able to check a real, historical, factual record allows us to avoid hindsight bias.
- Beware GroupThink. GroupThink is simply when everyone around you is thinking the same. An example of this is from Malcom Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success. At the end of the 1990s, Korean Air had more crashes than any other airline in the world. Those crashes were attributed to the Korean tradition of hierarchy, which led the pilots in the cockpit to defer to their superiors’ decisions, even when something seemed wrong. We have written previously about strong corporate cultures (see The Profit Power of Corporate Culture) and how they can lead to greater employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and profitability. But a culture that is too strong, or that restricts independent thought can be detrimental.
You know those phrases that tend to indicate a blind spot might exist: “But we’ve always done it this way!” “We tried that before, and it didn’t work.” “So, we’re all in complete agreement.” When you hear these sentences in your organization, that should raise a huge red flag.
The solution to the risk of falling prey to blind spots is feedback: continuous monitoring and tracking of information to lead decision-making. Having an effective feedback loop, of varied information sources throughout your business, is the only way to avoid confirmation bias, hindsight bias, and GroupThink. Correcting your blind spots is the only way to gain an accurate vision of and for your organization, and to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences of blind spots.