The Blind Spot Phenomenon in Innovation and How to Discover It

The Blind Spot Phenomenon in Innovation and How to Discover It

By Ralph Kerle


The cumulative creative behaviors of senior leadership teams offer a strong indicator of whether an organization can successfully work their way through an innovation or transformation initiative. I stumbled across this phenomenon when I started to witness impediments and then the breakdown of well intentioned and well planned innovation initiatives on an organizational scale.

It was clear to me these impediments occurred at senior levels not because of any deliberate subterfuge. They occurred because of “the blind spot phenomena” in creative skills and capabilities within teams working on innovation. The cliché “what you don’t know, you don’t know” occurred to me as best way to describe these circumstances.

Creativity, that element of discovery, experimentation, invention, perception and risk which drives innovation, creativity’s output, is subjective. It is influenced by our personal creative attitudes, behaviors and practices. It is an area of skills development that goes to the very heart of who we are and how we behave and is very difficult to talk about directly.

In my own journey as an innovation practitioner, the “blind spot phenomenon” revealed itself slowly over a period of six months as a result of the application of Foursight, an innovation thinking preference style diagnostic I use to assist and coach individuals in developing their creative leadership competencies.

Foursight is an innovation diagnostic tool instantly accessible and meaningful because it is based on simple language definitions. Other creativity or innovation diagnostics tools such as deBono’s Six Hats or the Herman Brain Dominance Instrument use colour metaphors (red, green etc) to describe our creative thinking preferences and behaviors. Many people are not visual thinkers and the need to unpack a methodology based on colour metaphors to understand the way we think creatively, acts as a barrier unless one has a sound knowledge of the psychology of colour. As soon as I started to use Foursight, I noticed a rapid change and a deeper conversation occurring in participants’ insights associated with creative behaviors.

Foursight builds its assessment of your creative thinking preference around four main archetypes:

    1. Clarifier
    2. Ideator
    3. Developer
    4. Implementer

A quick survey determines your preferences and biases. Understanding your preferences and biases assists greatly in understanding your own creative behavior and in the way you can best contribute to creative collaborations.

My epiphany around the discovery of the blind spot phenomenon came when I started to apply Foursight to entire leadership teams assessing their cumulative creative behaviors. I discovered the diagnostic had the power to surface indirectly insights on the way an entire organization innovated with these unexpected observations manifesting operational blind spots.

Let me illustrate with three case studies based on my own practice over the last 9 months.

Case Studies of the Blind Spot Phenomenon

One of Australia’s leading HR recruitment companies with a turnover of $60 million was recently forced to confront the disruption LinkedIn had bought to its current direct sales business model. The company focuses on developing and maintaining direct client relationships so that when a client is looking for a new candidate for a position, the HR company’s operating team has an up to date inventory of potential candidates ready to put forward for the role. Revenue is built on receiving a percentage of the annual salary as a fee for service on completion of a successful candidate placement.

BlindSpot Illusion
To experience the blind spot, place your finger over the middle seam between the two blocks. Cover that middle area with your finger completely and watch as the contrast completely changes.

LinkedIn has completely disrupted this model by putting the stock of potential job candidates directly on the window of the PC of the potential hiring company. All the hiring company needs do is send an in-house email to a LinkedIn member whose profile looks as if it matches the organization’s job criteria and engage and if successful, a substantial fee for services has been saved.

My engagement with this company was to assist in embedding innovation as a core business value through developing a new product and services capability and pipeline aimed at counteracting market disruption.

I always commence these engagements by running a Foursight diagnostic across the leadership team in order to obtain an insight into the creative thinking style of each individual. In this instance, I chose to explore the aggregation of the cumulative creative behaviors of this team as a by product because we had some time left over in the workshop at the completion of the initial exercise. How fortuitous this proved to be in unearthing the blind spot phenomenon!

Using a rough show of hands for measurement, the leadership team of 41 discovered it was made up of 2 Clarifiers, one Ideator, no Developers and 38 Implementers. This outcome was a shock to everyone, the leaders of the organization and myself included.
Here was the first inkling Foursight might offer a deeper diagnostic application?

Foursight’s research over 15 years shows the universal mean for a properly balanced team of creative leaders should be approximately 31.9 Clarifiers, 32.8 Ideators, 30.8 Developers and 32.2 Implementers.

As creative thinkers, implementers are not ideators. For them, creativity lies in the doing and they are particularly good at that. They operate best creatively though when they are offered fully developed ideas to implement. A team made of 38 implementers lacks all the essential competencies needed to ideate in a circumstance where new product and services development is the innovation priority.

The inherent biases in this leadership team – the total lack of Clarifiers, Ideators and Developers – has the potential to sink the good ship “Innovation” before it even leaves the dock and the surfacing of this problem poses a big challenge for the organization.
Does it have the fortitude to change the make-up of the senior leadership team or to commit resources to develop those capabilities within it before the organization is taken over completely by disrupting market forces leaving nothing but a shell of an operation? Think Kodak, Yellow Pages, Google Wave and Plus!

The second case study involves the CEO of a division of a multinational financial services organization in a small market. He has successfully managed the division using a management philosophy of cost containment and continuous improvement giving a return on investment of approximately 3.75% annually for 6 years from the commencement of the global financial crisis. He recognizes the financial services market is beginning to strengthen again and believes the best growth strategy for attaining his overall goal – growing the revenue of the division from $20 million to 50million over 5 years – is to focus on an innovation initiative driven by breakthrough thinking.

Engaged this time to design and implement a leadership and innovation framework for the entire division, I administered Foursight to the leadership group of 22. The universal mean showed a reasonable balance of innovation thinking styles with a distinct bias towards Clarifiers (36.5) and Ideators (34.2. Developers scored 29.7 and Implementers 32.0.

And here is where the innovation blind spot phenomenon revealed itself again.

The CEO’s individual innovation thinking style bias was clarifier and ideator reflecting the aggregated bias in his own leadership team. A combination of clarifier and ideator is called “an Early Bird” in Foursight language. An Early Bird is a person who has a sixth sense of the problems and challenges that need to be solved and comes up with clever and original solutions. However, Early Birds have tendencies to allow initiatives to grind to a halt as they move onto the next interesting opportunity.

The CEO acknowledged publicly in a workshop conversation as part of the Foursight debrief, the biases in his own creative behavior giving his leadership team permission to express their own concerns about impediments to initiatives they had experienced generally in the past.

This insight around this blind spot has been extremely helpful in keeping the CEO engaged with the innovation initiative as it now starts to take flight.

The third case study involves one of Australia’s major independent retail chains with $12billion annual revenue. It is an odd organization that has cobbled together a series of well known brands and independent chains of retail outlets ranging from groceries to hardware to auto spare parts, some under licensing agreements and some under franchise arrangements. It has a new CEO working hard to bring a new leadership team together to guide and grow the business into a more stable, united and prosperous future.

I administered Foursight as part of a senior leadership development programm for the senior CEOs and General Managers across all brands and divisions entitled “How To Create and Lead an Organizational Innovation Capability”. The cumulative creative leadership result revealed the lack of a Developer capability, the portent for a blind spot.

During a workshop discussion, the CIO revealed there was a transformation team charged with converting the recommendations of a $750,000 piece of work on organizational restructuring and cultural transformation management consultancy Bain and Co had completed. The organization was having substantial challenges turning the report’s recommendations into implementable solutions.

In a 15 minute creative conversation, the innovation blind spot was revealed – lack of Developer knowledge and experience – and a solution to $750,000 investment understood, clarified and framed for action.

Working creatively does involve arriving at blind spots no-one is prepared for. It’s called the unknown. It is how these blind spots are discovered, recognized and explored that are at the core of the creative insights that drive organizational innovation.
Like artists, the answer lies in following your intuition and your intellect; your right and left brain hunch around what the problem is, taking time to reflect, envision and articulate what the blind spot is.

The real art of innovation is to select and engage with tools and techniques that facilitate the exploration of these blind spots. No tool or technique is right or wrong.

However, when it comes to the mysterious world of organizational creativity, Foursight is one tool that offers a bright light on which to focus into the void.


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