You’re Missing What’s In Front of You

You’re missing what’s right in front of you, and I’m not surprised: bombarded with more information than they can effectively process, leaders often miss things that are “hidden in plain sight.” Information overload causes important facts to be overlooked, and leaders commonly bemoan how something so obvious wasn’t caught. In the fallout, outsiders critique these oversights and question leaders’ abilities.

During the mortgage lending frenzy of the mid-2000s, for example, financial institutions and regulatory agencies were drowning in their efforts to track interest rates, loan traffic, the housing boom and profits. Lost in this ocean was the higher percentage of risky loans being made to fuel the euphoria. Telltale data were completely available, revealing the risk of loan defaults. No one thought to investigate this critical aspect of the lending environment.

In The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See (Simon & Schuster, 2015), Max H. Bazerman, PhD, and a New York University colleague coined the term “bounded awareness” to describe how we consistently miss readily available stimuli. Our desired goal becomes our overwhelming mission, despite realities that can upend the best-laid plans. When leaders are so caught up in one situational aspect, they fail to observe another, leading to dire problems. Think of the manufacturer who’s so obsessed with delivery deadlines that he overlooks reports of quality problems.

Leaders can overcome bounded awareness by broadening their perspectives and thinking beyond their typical frame of reference. Careful consideration of issues always trumps a cursory glance. Bringing in a more diverse, cross-functional team is paramount. Leaders make better decisions when their teams answer critical questions:

  • What type of information is appropriate, and which should be discarded?
  • Do we have all the data we need? 
  • If not, where do we access more information? 

What do you think? Do you ever feel like you’re missing what’s right in front of you? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me via my website, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

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