"Blind Spots":
Willful or Something Else?

We recently noted Margaret Heffernan's Ted Talk on the dangers of "Willful Blindness." While her presentation was engaging and important, we were thinking about what are called leadership's "blind spots."

We all have blind spots

Understanding that all of us have blind spots, those attributed to leadership are likely to have implications well beyond the individual.

In our work with motivational and attitudinal patterns (the MAPs measured by the Inventory for Work Attitude and Motivation), we note that MAPs perform three functions:

  1. They filter data in our experience
  2. They help us translate the data that get through the filters
  3. They connect the resulting informaiton to our data- or experience base.

The result of all this is the "reality" to which we respond.

Willful or Not?

The real question is whether the blind spots are "willful." There are two general definitions of willful:

While Margaret Heffernan's example may well have fit the definition above, we believe there are a large number of cases in which there is a form of blindness which is not willful. That is, the inability or failure to "see" something is not intentional or deliberate, but rather occurs below consciousness.

Second, the behavior resulting from this kind of blindness may appear to some to be an "intention to do as one wants, regardless . . . " That definition implies behavior based on conscious awareness.

What if the resulting behavior is motivated by something that is below consciousness?

Based on our current "performance model," motivational and attitudinal patterns are the headwaters of human behavior. That is, the three processes noted above occur at the initial stage of a process which results in behavior. If we filter and translate something in a certain way, then everything that follows (emotions, decisions, actions) are affected by those processes.

But, there's more . . .

The iWAM measures 48 patterns (neurolinguistic psychology defines several additional MAPs). In most cases of complex human behavior, two or more patterns act in concert to influence the resulting motivation and behavior.

Let's return to the willful blindness defintion.

In terms of motivational and attitudinal patterns, an individual's "Operating Factor" (Procedures), "Time" pattern (Past), "Norms" patterns (Assertiveness, Tolerance), and Convincer Process (Consistency) could influence behavior.

The patterns we just mentioned do not include the interaction of one's value system on resulting behavior.

Now what?

While an interpretation of Occam's Razor suggests that "when you have two competing theories that make the same prediction, the simpler one is better," we suggest in this case that you consider the simple concept of "willful blindness" as too simple to account for the potential range of behaviors that include some form of metaphorical blindness.

When considering leadership, there are some cases of what one might consider "willful blindness," but the vast majority of the phenomena we are calling blindness are a product of well-intentioned men and women who, as a result of the interaction of some key variables, do not see the world as some others do.

How leaders deal with their respective blind spots may well be influenced by other motivational and attitudinal patterns. A powerful one might be "External Reference," the pattern that provides an indication of the extent to which the individual wants input or guidance from others.

If the answer were easy, there wouldn't be a question.