Recently, over a long lunch meeting, those gathered began discussing how leaders change systems. We agreed that most systems are designed for predictability and consistent outcomes. They also are designed to solve problems that may only be clear from a historical perspective rather than a current perspective.
Often when discussing this topic with executives, I point out that many people and even organizations suffer from a normal problem, namely spatial blindness. Barry Oshry in his book, Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Berrett-Koehler, 1995, defined spatial blindness as seeing the “parts of the system but not the whole system.” The problem is that the skills of perceiving and analyzing the world in terms of systems to many of us. They must be learned, because, for the most part, we are born blind to systems. Rarely can we clearly perceive ourselves in space, time or relationship to what appear to be remote objects, forces, people and events.
Furthermore, spatial blindness is a failure to grasp "big picture" connections. For example, many of us are almost totally unaware of what is happening elsewhere that can indirectly but powerfully affect our lives. Like the legendary blind group of people describing an elephant as they each grasp a different part of its anatomy, we routinely mistake the parts for the whole. In short, we lose perspective and miss the context in which seemingly isolated events occur.
One unique aspect of spatial blindness is scale blindness. Since it is easy to miss the big picture when concentrating on details, it also is difficult to up-scale or down-scale a set of conditions by linear extrapolation. It can be a recipe for serious error. Yet with improved understanding and perspective, we can begin to overcome scale blindness.
This week keep your eyes open for spatial blindness and scale blindness. It is rampant in the work place.