The Prevalence of Blind Spots

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When it comes to vision, most animals care very little for the substance of things. Their eyes are oriented to movement. No so for human beings. Our eyes are continually filling the field of vision with content, even when it’s not there. The anatomical structure of the human eye causes a blind spot which is filled by the surrounding environment in a way that we may never notice. A simple visual exercise confirms it.

“We spend about one-tenth of our waking hours completely blind.” (A Natural History of Seeing, Simon Ings)

Cultural biases and organizational norms cause blind spots as well. “Taboos” exist which we cannot address because we don’t know they are there. We can’t “see” them, above all, in our own daily environment. The consequences, though often not apparent in the short term, have enduring impact over the course of time and history.

One way to increase our awareness and uncover blind spots is by comparison and contrast. Examining the differences between a microbiology lab and a high energy physics lab (ethnographic study) helps scientific and technical leaders uncover their blind spots. The patterns and practices for generating new knowledge are very different in these labs, for those who have eyes to see.

Just as an ophthalmologist tests visual fields of the eyes, it is possible to check periodically for blind spots of leaders. Paradoxical as it may seem, successful leaders know how to look for their own blind spots as well as those of their organization. Leaders can develop and practice skills to make visible what is invisible. As a result new fields of awareness emerge.

Awareness precedes choice. Energy follows attention

  • Mark Solien

    Aloha Steve,

    I would add a thought to your excellent article and that would be cognitive diversity. Great leaders take advantage of the cognitive diversity of colleagues in order to see through their blind spots and to become aware of new possibilities.