Seeing though a clear lens

by Shannon Donnici

“Where you stand depends on where you sit.” —  Miles’ Law

As humans, we are biologically programmed to see what we want to see, and to blissfully ignore what doesn’t fit with our preconceived notions or existing beliefs.

This applies both in the literal sense, and in the way we process information to make decisions. That’s because, in virtually every area of our life, our go-to starting point is grounded in biases that encourage us to favour information or images that support our existing beliefs and disregard those that don’t.

It’s like seeing through a tinted, distorted lens that prevents us from seeing what’s going on around us – good or bad – in all its crystal clear, 21st-century Technicolor glory.

“There is nothing wrong with holding an opinion and holding it passionately. But at those times when you’re absolutely sure that you’re right, talk with someone who disagrees. And if you constantly find yourself in the company of those who say “Amen” to everything that you say, find other company.” —  former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice

This type of clouded vision is extremely common in business. Seeing (or hearing) what we want to helps us maintain the status quo, doesn’t rock the boat and prevents us from having to stand out, take risks or make an effort to change. You can see it manifested in actions, perhaps better described as “inactions” that include ignoring bad news, avoiding feedback or disregarding employee concerns.

The problem is, the longer we ignore issues or push them to the side, the less likely we are to even see them anymore.

It’s like that red-wine stain on your living room carpet. It’s irritating to see at first, but then you get used to it and after a while you don’t even notice it anymore – that is until it’s too late and your mother-in-law is at the door, white gloves in hand.

Those blindspots, or scotomas, are precisely what holds businesses back, and sometimes even destroys them. Consider how Blockbuster missed the boat on a chance to purchase Netflix. Or, how Volkswagen leaders persuaded themselves they wouldn’t get caught for their emissions cheat.

What we see depends on the clarity of our lens. In this day and age of disruptive technologies and a changing workforce, we need to make sure we we’re operating with the facts. To this end, I developed a plan for myself that I want to share with you.

How to keep a clear lens as a business leader:

1. Take an inventory of your scotomas.

Park your ego and consider what you are ignoring. Awareness of your own biases is the most important step to overcoming them.

2. Be a truth seeker.

Actively seek facts from a broad and diverse group of internal and external sources – employees, clients, competitors and consultants. Their insights and opinions are gold. At the same time, remember that everyone brings their own blind spots, agendas and political influences to the table.

3. Welcome engagement.

Set an inclusive and collaborative tone. Build formal and casual opportunities for feedback into your schedule. Encourage employees and others to give you their insights into your operation and consider it a victory when someone comes to you with a different opinion, bold idea, or even bad news, because it is often a nugget of truth that will propel your business forward.

In my experience, once you embrace and adopt these three steps, you will begin to develop a sixth sense that will allow you to naturally overcome your blind spots and encourage others in your organization to do likewise.

Shannon Donnici is Wazuku Advisory Group’s Alberta-based Vice President. She is a passionate expert in the fields of leadership, operations and customer experience. Shannon is an established strategic and operational leader with more than 25 years of progressive experience building teams and executing strategies. She is a real advocate for the customer, the employee and quality results to positively influence enterprise brand and profitability.