Dominant frames may keep your team on the same page but they also limit your innovation. You may all be very happily running off the cliff together. A strong strategic team actively works to “see” what they are ignoring and make mindful choices about which blind-spots they are comfortable with.
Blind-spots in our frame of reference occur at the edge. They are outside the scope of our mindset. Blind-spot centering seeks to find the most strategically interesting blind-spot and make it the center of our focus. We then build a new mindset with this point as its center.
The Steps in Blind-Spot Centering
Blind-spot centering can help a team see opportunities before competitors, identify hidden risks in their strategy, and develop an outside-in perspective.
Step 1: Generate a list of shared assumptions.
Each person identifies three assumptions that are widely shared within the organization, one shared assumption about customers or potential customers, one shared assumption about competitors (or other relevant organizations if competition is not relevant to your organization), and one shared assumption about the organization. Combine the individual responses into a single list sorted by customer, competitor, and organization.
Step 2: Select dominant assumptions.
Divide into three subgroups. Assign each subgroup to focus on customer, competitor, or organization assumptions. Each subgroup decides which assumption on their list is the most deeply or widely held assumption within the organization.
Step 3: Assume reversal/blind-spot centering.
Each subgroup is to imagine the widely held assumption selected in step 2 is incorrect. They will then generate an alternate assumption.
Step 4: Describe the world.
If the assumption identified in step 3 were true, what would the environment look like? List some assumptions about this imaginary world. How would customers be different? Suppliers? Competitors? Employees? Are there any assumptions listed in step 1 that would still hold true? If so, list these as well.
Step 5: Create a combined map of assumptions.
Combine the work of the three groups onto a single Venn diagram. Make note of the overlapping assumptions. Groups should also add assumptions from the other groups to their lists, if they fit, and move them to the overlapping area of the Venn diagram.
Step 6: Compare assumptions to the original list.
Compare the blind-spot centered Venn diagram to the original list of assumptions made in step 1. Highlight any assumptions that remain on both lists.
Using the Results of Blind-Spot Centering
The process of working through this exercise helps a group broaden its mindset and challenge conventional wisdom. The results can trigger some new insights as well. Here are some questions I often use to drive discussion after this exercise. Any one of these questions can lead to some excellent, specific actions for the group that build from the expanded mindset created through blind-spot centering.
- Are there specific stakeholders (customers, regulators, activists, suppliers) who operate out of one of the blind-spot-centered perspectives?
- After going through this exercise, do any of the widely shared assumptions identified at the beginning seem particularly at risk for not being true? What can you do to test the validity of those assumptions?
- How well would your organization do in the different worlds described in the combined map?
- What is your organization doing to monitor and test shared assumptions? What could you start doing?
This description of blind-spot centering is adapted from Chapter 3 of Unquestioned Brilliance. For more on this and other strategic leadership techniques see Unquestioned Brilliance: Navigating a Fundamental Leadership Trap.