It's What We Don't See
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 22, 2009
This headline caught my attention−“Backing-up Vehicles Killed 221 and Injured 14,000.”
After my immediate reaction, I thought about it more. I’m sure those drivers didn’t mean to do damage—they just did not see what was in their path. Many probably thought they were being careful, so if people just like us try to see ahead and still have horrible outcomes, what does that say about our ability to move forward? In the same way, corporate eyesight has not been too good lately, either.
Why do organizations have poor eyesight? Blurred vision is the loss of sharpness and the inability to see small details. Many times, companies don’t look close enough to see clearly. It has become too easy to look at data and generalize a conclusion that may hide the relevant insights.
We see what we expect to see. It is human nature to rely on past experiences to interpret new information. Merit Smith, Nolan VP and Health Care Practice director, summarized this best when he said, “People draw the mountains they’ve seen.” So, we miss finding the new, unexpected information.
We don’t look hard enough. Many times organizations evaluate a market and then create a strategy that misses the real opportunity. It takes time and energy to investigate and interpret findings.
We refuse to believe what we see. Afterward, it is all too obvious—for example, everyone could see that oil is a limited resource and that the world has a growing industrial population. But we didn’t believe a severe shortage could strike us.
Some things just can’t be seen. Every vantage point has its blind spots; find and eliminate them. In your car, adjust your mirrors or install cameras. In your organization, gather useful data to fill information gaps. If we don’t look in the right places, we sometimes can’t see the truth—e.g., it is difficult to understand medical providers when we look only at disease data.
Sometimes, we just can’t see it at all. We don’t see gravity, but we know it’s there. Many times, the real finding has to be derived from other observations. And it may not be simple; it may take several observations added together to understand a complex situation.
Improve your corporate vision. Look for information in new places. If we refer to the same data sources time after time, it is easy to miss emerging trends not held within that repository. Expand your search, and gather new opinions.
There is also the problem of open communications. After almost every product failure, someone says, “I could have told them that.” That person knew but didn’t (or couldn’t) communicate the knowledge. Organizations have thousands of eyes—capitalize on that awareness by creating ways for people to share their findings to build deeper insights.
Be thorough—sometimes 80% right isn’t good enough despite the 80/20 mantra of many organizations. You may need to dig deeper to validate early conclusions and assumptions.
Learn to see in the dark. Three simple rules may help you:
• Let your eyes adjust to the dark. Many people rush in and immediately come to a conclusion, but sometimes they need to immerse themselves in the data and let their sight adjust to the environment.
• See by listening. When you cannot see clearly, let other senses (including common sense) help interpret the data.
• Scan—don’t stare. Our senses get dulled by focusing on just one point. When you look across and around, you will see more and better.
We know it is difficult to see ahead, but we also don’t want surprises. So, as our mothers taught us, look both ways before you cross the street.
Ron Zimmer is a senior consultant for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.
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