The Cost Of Single-Mindedness

Racehorses 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.

single mindednessConsider 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.

Editor’s Note: This Article originally appeared in the Huffington Post and is featured here by permission of the Author.

Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt
Dr. Mary Lippitt is an award-winning author of "Brilliant or Blunder: 6 Ways Leaders Navigate Uncertainty, Opportunity, and Complexity.” She founded Enterprise Management Ltd. in 1984 to provide leaders with practical and effective solutions to navigate the modern business climate using situational mastery. Dr. Lippitt is a thought leader and speaker on executing change, optimal leadership, and situational analysis. She currently teaches in the MBA program at the University of South Florida. Mary is also the author of Situational Mindsets: Targeting What Matters When It Matters.


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Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson

Absolutely! “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.” I’ve never been quite able to figure out why some people get so defensive when they read opinions that differ from theirs or they assume they need to get ready to go to the mat when changes are made. Why not take off the blinders and dig deeper and even if it doesn’t change their mind at least be able to listen and give it a chance. I have strong convictions about things too, but at least I’m willing to try to see it from another person’s viewpoint just out of respect.

Mary Lippitt
Mary Lippitt

Great to hear you are wiling to consider another
viewpoint. Listening to other viewpoints serves us. It can provide us key information that we overlooked. And it can also clue us in to how to influence others. And finally it builds mutual trust and respect. Relationships still count.



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