How Much Are Your Blinders Costing You?

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Don’t look now, but you may be going through life with blinders on. Actually, we all are to some extent—some of us more so than others. What do I mean by this? Well, I grew up in Amish country, where horses and buggies are a common sight. Because horses have amazing peripheral vision and are easily distracted, the Amish put blinders on the horses so that they can only see straight ahead. This is a very good thing for a horse pulling an Amish family through traffic, but a very bad thing for a leader running a business.

So now you, as a business leader, may be thinking, “Wait a minute—I’m not wearing blinders! Nor am I pulling an Amish family through traffic!” Fair point, but—and some of you may have figured this out already—I’m speaking metaphorically. And, metaphorically speaking, you are wearing blinders if you:

  • Only listen to Rush Limbaugh, or only watch Keith Olbermann;
  • Only hang out and talk with other people in your industry;
  • Only read magazines and newspapers (remember newspapers?) that reflect your point of view or are about your industry;
  • At conferences and networking events, always associate with the same people;
  • In short, only take in information that confirms and reinforces your world view, or pertains specifically to your field of work.

This is a bad thing for two (at least two) reasons. First, if you’re a leader, you need to be more well-rounded. You need to know, understand, and feel comfortable with different points of view. Second, it’s a bad thing because you never know where the great ideas are going to come from! So many great ideas are sparked by a random conversation with a stranger on a plane, or in a hotel, or on the golf course. Somebody with no connection to your business at all, but who says something that provides the solution to that impenetrable problem you’ve been stressing over. Or maybe, out of sheer boredom and desperation, you pick up an ancient copy of some obscure magazine at the dentist’s office, start to read, and stumble across something that makes you think, “Wait a minute—I can use that idea in my work!”

I’ve written before about how Paul McCartney, while listening to a Bach concerto, got the idea to put a piccolo trumpet in his song Penny Lane. Or how John Lennon, after hearing a British police siren racing past his house, got up and wrote the opening two-note melody to I Am The Walrus. You never know where the great ideas are going to come from.

In a little over an hour I’ll be delivering the closing keynote address for the Washington Society of Association Executives. Yesterday one of the other speakers, Jeffrey Cufaude, mentioned that whenever he’s in an airport traveling to a different city for a speaking engagement, he will pick up a copy of that city’s magazine, along with a handful of magazines that relate to his audience. If he’s speaking to a women’s group, for example, he may pick up a copy of O, Elle, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan. By browsing through these magazines, he gets to take off the blinders and see the world through his audience’s point of view.

Chances are that at least a few of your customers and clients have points of view that are different from yours. How much business are you losing, and how many great, game-changing ideas are you missing, because of your blinders? So take them off! Watch a different news show on occasion. Read a different magazine. Have a conversation with somebody you wouldn’t normally talk to. After all, you never know where the great ideas are going to come from!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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