Flying Blind


I know the president of a company that has spent her entire career at one company. She began as a teenager and now, over twenty years later, she is in charge. She is bright and knows how to perform all of the tasks within the company.

Unfortunately, while she understands the internal processes of her company’s service line, she has done nothing to understand running a business. As times have changed, the company has had little progressive improvements. The economy has created additional problems for which she has made no adjustments to how her business operates. The company is slowly dying.

However, instead of making significant changes to try and save the company, she and her staff do two other things. They blame the economy and pretend there is nothing they can do to improve the situation. They seem to honestly believe it is all beyond their control.

To make matters worse, the president is insecure outside of her small comfort zone. She appears to never seek mentors, business classes, professional development books or anything else that would teach her how to be a better company leader. Anyone that has major suggestions for improvement or disagrees with her will eventually be dismissed or made so miserable they leave on their own. The president avoids business situations where her lack of background and business experience might be noticed.

The apparent strategy is to fly blind. That is, “If you ignore a problem long enough, it will go away.” Maybe sometimes this is true. We’ve all spent too much energy on some problem that turned out to be insignificant. However, most businesses that ignore growing problems find their philosophy to be truer than expected. The problems do go away because the business goes away.

In our assessment services for management, we commonly see the same approach used with technology in a business. Management may not understand their company’s technology or the business processes around that technology. So they ignore any problems and avoid detailed questions, assuming the “smart computer guys” have it handled.

The funny part of this is that the problems management typically ignore are not the actual technology but how the technology is used. That is, the business processes are ignored simply because they include technology.

The examples above are all examples of mental filtering, one of the classic cognitive distortions. Overly discounting the negative to focus on the positive or, conversely, ignoring the positives and fixating on only the negatives. They are, at least in some areas of their life, flying blind.

People with depression often discount the positive. They may feel that life is not worth living, despite the reality of a loving family, close friends, and ample food and shelter. The positive is not just be ignored, but actively filtered as if it never existed.

In communication, you often see mental filtering when people are arguing. If you listen closely to most fights, both parties will defend their own ideas and positions so hard that no other information is even processed.  It is not a fight of ideas, it is a fight of being right. And generally this type of communication only wastes everyone’s time and energy.

What do you filter and ignore (and even refuse to acknowledge)? Do you know? Are you sure?



About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.