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Human Blind Spots in Competitive Intelligence

Challenges posed by complexity and velocity in competitive intelligence aren’t all that difficult to overcome until you add the human element into the equation. Human beings have blind spots that prevent them from seeing the complexity in a situation and accounting for the velocity of change. Blind spots are at the root of the difficulty when predicting outcomes and executing initiatives.

Following are a few examples of the types of blind spots people may have:

  • Paradigm blindness: Writer and scientist Thomas Kuhn detailed the reality that most people reject information if it’s different (dissonant) from their existing understanding of reality. In other words, human beings (except for the 2.5 percent of the population who are pathfinders — visionaries who embrace change) are generally incapable of recognizing change.

    Pathfinders are the only people who can see reality without bias. As a result, they’re your insight into the future and critically important to your success.

  • Complexity blindness: A concept first introduced by Newell and Simon called bounded rationality (and later adopted into strategic thinking by Henry Mintzberg and Ralph Stacey) hypothesized that the human mind is simply incapable (or bounded) when it comes to making sense of complex situations. Most people want to shut down and ignore that information.

    The key is to engage, analyze, use your intuitive capabilities, and patiently develop an understanding of what is really going on.

  • Blindness to unfamiliar solutions: According to prospect theory, decision makers often choose a solution that won’t solve the problem at hand, simply because they’re unfamiliar with the necessary fix.

  • For example, suppose a firm has a problem with cycle time — the time required to complete a process such as placing an order. Solving the problem probably requires knowledge of process mapping or process engineering, but the people looking at the problem aren’t knowledgeable in those areas, so they suggest something like creating a new mission statement.

    A new mission statement won’t help, but it’s something they know how to do, so that’s the “solution” they recommend.

For your organization to overcome its blind spots, everyone in the organization needs to engage in systems thinking — an approach that develops an understanding of how all factors influence one another in your market. SMD analysis and OODA loops, as well as war gaming and scenario development are all approaches that leverage systems thinking as a foundation. Additionally, they’re all effective, to varying degrees, in overcoming resistance to change.

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