Everyone else sees your blind spots

IMG_0270 - Version 2
IMG_0270 - Version 2

You don't have to know much about soccer to enjoy attending a kid's game.  Saturday mornings in the fall seems to bring out the best in us all, with groups of kids chasing around a black and white ball with reckless abandon.  The younger they are, the greater the entertainment in the soccer pack. I love watching the dynamic at work.  Kids are excited.  Parents pump more energy into them with their cheers and encouragement. Shiny stuff is everywhere...and the micro-attention spans accommodate. Strategy on the field doesn't come easy despite the best efforts of the coaches to maintain focus.  Here are five of my favorite on-field antics:

  1. Players who forget the objective of scoring a goal...especially when it deteriorates to simply an exercise in uncontrolled kicking, regardless of direction!
  2. Players who forget which goal is to be defended and which is to be scored upon. (I love the shot to the right of my son's game...and the two boys on the same team facing each other as they kick).
  3. Players who can't get out of the way of someone on the same team who has a good shot at the goal.
  4. Players who are distracted by and interacting with teammates and parents who are on the sideline.  (Admission: We finally had to stop yelling encouragement to our daughter when she played kindergarten soccer because she'd stop and wave every time we yelled her name...even in the presence of an open shot on goal).
  5. The disproportionate amount of emotion for either scoring a goal OR being scored on.

It's easy to see why people use sports analogies so often when they are talking about work.  The symbolism is too obvious to miss.  Practically anyone on the sideline can identify the fundamental mistakes when a blob of five-year-olds hack away on the soccer field.  That fact is easy to accept.   What is difficult in a work setting, however, is realizing that some of our organizational mistakes may be just as obvious to people on the sidelines...and we look just as clueless.

Hindsight may be 20/20, but this lack of perspective is what fuels decisions to change the formula of Coca-cola, creating Qwikster from Netflix, or changing Facebook formats that perturb and disturb people who have just figured out the last one.  It is in these moments that many ask, "What were they thinking?!?!  Did they even ask their customer for a perspective?"

Perspective is a powerful thing.  Sometimes, we (either as individuals or organizations) don't see what's in front of our faces because it's too familiar (Fed Ex anyone?).  Sometimes, we're just used to doing something the way it's always been done. Sometimes, we're too emotional to have a helpful perspective.  Sometimes, we've over-thought it.  Sometimes, it was simply a bad plan from the beginning, but we've worked on it way too long to feel good about killing it.  In any of those cases, and likely many more, it's helpful to solicit feedback.

Since we aren't five years old any more, we should be able to take coaching and improve when we hear different perspectives, especially when it comes from people on the sidelines.  Better yet, we should go looking for it.

So, here is what hangs in the balance...

  • Who do you have who coaches you?
  • Do you have a mentor?
  • How do you get the feedback that you need to grow?
  • Who can see what you can't see...knowing how much you've (over)thought about the situation and are emotionally connected to it?

Remember, you can't see through your own blind spots.  That is why they are called blind.

Pull that team of trusted coaches, advisers, and truth-speakers onto your sideline...or the world may just end up wondering what in the world you were doing kicking the ball into your own goal... and it won't be nearly so cute.