Lately, a couple of things have got me thinking about the concept of being blinkered, and more specifically what to do about people we come across who are afflicted by this.
Technically, as I’m sure we all know, blinkers are a contraption worn by horses to force them to focus on the road ahead, rather than be distracted by anything in their periphery vision. Extrapolating this to a business context, the initial view might be that a leader who focusses on a singular vision is a good thing. Apart from the fact that anything coming from left field can’t be anticipated. But that’s the great thing about being blinkered. If you can’t see it, it might as well not exist. So when we say someone is blinkered we mean something more like being completely closed to anything other than what is right in front of you.
My first thought is that these people need help. A horse can’t remove it’s own blinkers and neither can people. They need someone to do it for them. Of course it’s not as simple as that. It never is.
I learned this the hard way when I recently attended an interview. For once, I was not on the panel but on the other side of the table. I’d prepared on the basis that their current business plan of focussing solely on a funding stream that the government plans to re-route was questionable. Of course they did not enjoy me pointing this out. Needless to say I didn’t get a call back, and they’re forging ahead with their plan. Perhaps it was me who was blinkered, but not for long. I think I had a lucky escape.
Then yesterday I read this article in the Guardian about the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and his further descent into self righteousness. He’s best known for his 2006 book “The God Delusion” which decries all religion. Putting aside the horrific idiocy of the opinion expressed in his latest offensive tweet, his basic premise is that anyone who disagrees him is a moron. Now, what if it was your job (or you thought it was) to convince him that God existed? That he was fundamentally wrong?
It’s not about that essential HR skill, negotiation. That requires some room to manoeuvre, some give and take. Some compromise. It’s about a pursuit so single minded as to be completely blind to any other idea or opinion.
It’s something we all do, to varying degrees. In neuroscience terms we all have filters based on our beliefs and experiences. It’s just one of the ways we cope with the vast amount of information assaulting our senses at any given moment. As part of this model a lot of data can be ignored or discounted because it would simply be impossible to consider it all. So our individual World view means others perceive things we can’t see. It’s when this is taken to the extreme – that’s there’s an expectation that everyone should share the same World view that the worst cases of being blinkered arise.
I have wondered whether this is part of the age old battle of wills between Boards and HR about agility. Their view is that HR is being inflexible. But what if HR can see something they can’t? How do you even begin to explain something that someone refuses to see or try to understand, no matter who is actually “right”?
So I guess I was wrong. A person doesn’t need someone to remove their blinkers, because the only person who can do that is themselves. I don’t have any answers but suffice to say I don’t enjoy watching others walk blindly into a trap of their own making, no matter how culpable. So if it’s something you believe in strongly then utilise all your HR skills to influence, but also know when to give up a lost cause.