Blind Spots

Blind Spots by Dr. Robert Gerwig

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Have any blind spots? How would you know? … See the dilemma? If they’re truly blind spots, then you WOULDN’T know you had ‘em. This is what makes ‘em dangerous. You have ‘em. Other people know you have ‘em. But YOU don’t see ‘em or know you have ‘em.

Mike came into my office one morning and asked to discuss the performance metrics of one of my manufacturing facilities. Well, he actually didn’t come in to discuss anything. He came in to TELL me the performance of one of my plants was poor. He was particularly upset about on-time delivery performance. In fact, he gave me the “or else” speech. You know, you’d better improve performance OR ELSE … The contrarian in me wanted to say “or else what?” But I kept my mouth shut (for the most part) though I did ask some questions. What was the target for on-time performance? What was the historical trend? Had recent weeks or months been out of statistical control? Were there any extenuating circumstances that had been impacting performance?

You see, Mike was an executive VP and he had been trained to look at data logically, without bias. I also knew that while Mike was in college he had minored in Statistics. And I knew that he was a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. He knew the tools and knew how to analyze data. I also knew that the plant’s on-time delivery performance was, and had been, in statistical control (for over 34 months). I told Mike that I would investigate the matter and follow-up with him.

I had the data collected and summarized within a couple hours (most of it was part of my monthly metrics dashboard). … As I knew, the plant’s performance was in-control.

When I met with Mike late that afternoon and shared the data with him, he was not happy. Was I surprised? No. Disappointed but not surprised. Why? … Well, I’ve learned over the years that many people make up their minds, form an opinion, and determine the cause, PRIOR to looking at the data. Often, this is due to a blind spot. In Mike’s case, he appeared to have difficulty objectively viewing the performance of the facility because he doesn’t personally like the plant manager. Unfortunately, Mike frequently forms a strong opinion about this plant and its performance that is not supported by data.

When I shared the statistical analysis with Mike, he got upset. My conclusion didn’t support his point of view. Even in the face of objective data and data analysis, Mike’s filter (his blind spot) was so strong, he could not see (or accept) the truth. The truth? The truth was that the plant in question was in statistical control. There was not a crisis. The truth was also that Mike held a strong, if incorrect, opinion and I had to work hard to find a way for him to save face so we could move on.

This is not the only story I could share where intelligent, maybe even brilliant, people allow their emotions, or some other filter, to cause an illogical blind spot. My advice? Give others you trust the right to tell you if you have a blind spot. If you’re being illogical. If you’re wrong. If you’re ignoring objective data. … Remain humble and keep an open mind. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t jump to conclusions. Listen. Listen to the data. Listen to people. … Did I mention it’s important to LISTEN?

I admit that I have blind spots and that’s exactly why I enlist others (whom I trust) to help me. They have permission to call me out. To tell me I’m wrong – with respect and tact, of course.

You have blind spots. How do you identify them? Work around them? Keep them from being a barrier to good decision-making and good relationship-building? … What suggestions do you have for overcoming blind spots?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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