THE BLOG

The Cost of Single-Mindedness

03/20/2015 11:53 am ET | Updated May 20, 2015

2015-03-20-1426815374-7625478-blinders.jpgRacehorses may need blinders but leaders do not. Keeping things simple is simply wrong and frequently costly in today's world. As Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman outlined in his book, Thinking: Fast and Slow, there are decisions that require more than an intuitive response. An instant answer can certainly work for routine decisions. Complex realities require a deeper understanding rather than a stampede to judgment.

Leaders are told to 'keep their eyes on the prize', but a single-minded approach is not the answer. While it provides clear direction, quick answers and a reason to persevere, narrow thinking blinds us to the big picture and the opportunity for creative solutions.

Consider the CEO sticking with tradition despite marketplace changes; a politician latching onto one position overlooking broader constituent needs, and an expert whose specialization actually blocks any consideration of factors beyond his/her expertise. Too many leaders rely solely on their experience thus limiting their acceptance of complexities, mitigating factors and consequences. Therefore, economists only see economic solutions, surgeons recommend surgery and public leaders championing one cause; reflects silver bullet thinking.

The cost of relying on personal experience, specialization, education and intuition is that everything reverts to binary choices: You agree or you don't; you're for me or against me; you are wrong and I am right.

Let's examine the cost of narrow mindedness. Superficial analysis is easier than probing the issues. Whatever side of the spectrum you are on, you are likely to learn about and accept the buzz without digging into the pros and cons. Slogans, cable news and personalities tend to cloud realities and prevent a thorough evaluation of implications and costs.

The belief that speed reflects intelligence accelerates the propensity for snap conclusions, faulty labeling, and misguided solutions. Such misguided labeling is readily apparent in schools, businesses and politics. When we label and create stereotypes about character, motivation and talent, we block solutions that might bridge positions and improve outcomes. The all-or-nothing strategy blinds us to alternatives and risks.

Recently a letter dealing with Iranian nuclear talks was quickly drafted and signed by 47 U.S. senators in a hasty reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's address to Congress. There was no apparent effort to weigh the impact of this precedent-setting action, and there was no examination of alternatives. The senators made a simple decision with a speed uncharacteristic of this Congress. In response to negative publicity several Senators defended their actions by labeling President Obama as distrustful, exceeding his authority, and soft toward Iran.

We must be willing to dig deeper and discover creative solutions to vexing problems. Some potential steps include the following:

  • Identifying all primary and secondary stakeholders.
  • Listening to all of stakeholder viewpoints and concerns.
  • Analyzing alternatives including short- and long-term costs.
  • Requiring a risk analysis
  • Asking questions before automatically concurring with easy answers.
  • Separating opinions from facts.

Blinders narrow our viewpoints, foster false solutions, waste resources and devolve into personal quarrels that divert energy from effective solutions. There are far-reaching costs when confronting complex problems with narrow thinking. Simplistic solutions are costly.

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