In last week’s blog post we took an in-depth look at the issue of missing information that’s right in front of leaders. Dr. Bazerman and a New York University colleague coined the term “bounded awareness” to describe this phenomenon. When leaders are so caught up in one situational aspect, they fail to observe another, leading to dire problems down the road. Thankfully this tendency can be overcome, and we’re happy to help you with this through leadership coaching! This week we’ll be looking at another common issue when it comes to leaders correctly utilizing data for decision-making.
Ignoring What’s Hidden from View
Understandably, information outside the forefront is harder to observe, but it may be the most critical to obtain. Details not initially obvious often have the greatest impact, and their elusiveness causes leaders to underestimate them.
Immediate thinking, where intuition and emotion dominate, often prevents leaders from considering hidden information. Some leaders believe that if they cover the obvious items, most issues will be under control. This dangerous mindset regards small details as non-critical and not worthy of inspection.
Consider the leader of an electronics firm who cuts costs and introduces a cheaper version of a product his competitors provide. His company makes significant investments in design, retooling, and advertising. Unfortunately, he ignored known R&D research that would have alerted him to new technology that will render his product obsolete.
Gradual-change blindness also causes leaders to miss information. When a series of small changes occur, they may be subtle and, on their own, go unrecognized. But their collective effect is dramatic, and leaders may be lulled into thinking that nothing is really happening as gradual shifts play out. Leaders realize something’s wrong only when it’s too late.
Remember the tale of the frog placed into a pot of cold water on the stove? When the burner is lit, the water heats gradually, but the frog doesn’t notice. When the water reaches a boiling point, it’s too late: The frog is cooked. Had the frog been immediately subjected to boiling water, he would have jumped out of the pot.
Like the frog, people tend to overlook minor changes. An engineering leader, for example, may not observe his team’s attempts to streamline proven product-testing processes. A series of minor concessions may go unnoticed until the final product displays major deficiencies. By then, it’s too late to make reasonable corrections; the project has failed.
Leaders can prevent gradual-change blindness with a timeline view of recent progress. Seek help from those with personal knowledge who can clearly and objectively present the facts. Take regular snapshots of how a situation develops to avoid surprises and reduce risks.