6 tips against operational blindness: be wary of your routine

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Operational blindness is a phenomenon that most have heard of. It is one of the more undesirable phenomena that can sometimes be found in companies. But few can define what exactly it means.

This guide will get you up to speed on the subject of operational blindness and explain what this actually is and how you can recognize and, if necessary, eliminate it.

Operational blindness - what actually is that?

There is no uniform definition for the term operational blindness. A popular, but rather general definition states:

“Operational blindness is the lack of attention to operational processes.”


While that is absolutely correct, it is too undetailed to make the term truly understandable.
The following definition goes into a bit more detail and also names a specific cause:

” We speak of operational blindness when current operational processes are no longer re-evaluated, but are simply maintained and considered correct solely on the basis of routine and the past.”

A similar definition can also be found in the lexicon of coaching-report.de:

“[Operational blindness describes] inappropriate perceptual and judgmental tendencies that are often caused by routine. A classic characteristic of operational blindness is the limited perception of operational processes and interrelationships.”

The following two key statements can therefore be derived from these definitions:

Operational blindness is the lack of attention to and assessment of operational processes and interrelationships.

Operational blindness arises from routines

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Be wary of routine, even if it seems convenient

Routines as such are not bad. However, sometimes they can hinder innovation because they are oriented too closely to empirical values. In a sense, routines can be blinders that block the view of new ideas.

At this point, the well-known saying “Never change a running system” may come to mind. Things are going as they should, tasks are clearly defined and because everything has always been that way, there is no reason to change things.

This mindset is often ironically referred to as officialdom. A list of “arguments” against change and innovation would read as follows:
  • „We have always done it like that!“
  • „We have never done that!”
  • „Then everybody would be doing that!“

 

So why should you question routines when everything is so uncomplicated with them?
It’s simple: Because otherwise we would still be plowing the fields with horsepower and manpower.

Betriebslindheit_Beamtendreisatz_tractionwise

One important reason is the constant social and technological change. Especially in today’s world, new insights, technologies and trends constantly emerge. Some of these have the potential to change society profoundly or to turn operational matters upside down. Entire business areas or business models can be transformed as a result.

One example of this is the Internet. While its potential was initially not recognized by many people and it was ridiculed, it is now a fundamental part of our lives. Just ask yourself the question, “What would it be like these days without the Internet?” I think the answer is clear. Operational processes have also changed over time. So has the way we communicate with our customers, handle purchasing and sales, and do many other things.

The Internet is a gimmick for computer geeks, we don't see a future in it.

This constant change makes it essential to continuously educate yourself and keep up with new developments.

Of course, this does not mean that you should now invest your time, money and energy in every new trend. However, a certain willingness to learn and to deal with society and the changes in it is important. This is the only way to recognize and use potentials. My tip: Critically question every change. But that doesn’t mean you should reject it.

To express all of this once again with an example:

Of course, a suitcase can easily be carried and it was done so for a long time. However, once this is questioned and some innovation is allowed to develop, someone may come up with the idea of screwing rollers onto the suitcase.

Like this an innovation (wheels) has significantly simplified a well-known and proven process (carrying suitcases). The prerequisite for this was not to settle for the old method. Always question the status quo for yourself.

Question yourself

In order to apply these ideas in your everyday professional life, you should take the time to ask yourself some questions now and then. Use them to track down your own possible operational blindness.

Do you enjoy working in your field? If yes:

  • When did you last critically question your activities and the established processes in your company?
  • When was the last time you thought about possible changes and proposed or implemented them?
  • Do you actively strive to make work easier and more efficient for yourself and others?

Is your product or service as flawless as you think it is?

  • Is it still up to date and meets your customers’ current needs?
  • If you’re not careful, your customers may shift to your competitor because they simply put more thought into it.
  • Are you yourself convinced of the quality?

How intensive is your interaction with colleagues

  • Do your interactions go beyond small talk and cafeteria conversations about the weekend?
  • Do you reflect on your work regularly?

Do you know the corporate vision of your company and can you reproduce it clearly? If yes:

  •  Are you and your company acting accordingly? Or is it time for change?

Of course, there is no right or wrong answer to all these questions. However, they will help you determine whether and to what extent you and your company rely and depend on the tried and true, or whether you already have good self-reflection and a willingness to innovate.

6 tips on how to avoid the dangers of operational blindness

There are various ways to proactively prevent possible operational blindness. Presented here first graphically in the overview and subsequently described below.

6 tips operational blindness
6 Tipps against operational blindness

Tip 1: Self-control

  • Regularly check and question the way you work. The challenge here is to remain objective.
  • The most important question to ask should be, “Am I actively thinking about my work or am I just acting out of routine?”

Tip 2: constant critical thinking

  • Critical thinking is an important tool. It can prevent old familiar processes and structures from being preserved just because they are considered irreplaceable and error-free.
  • Be aware of the power of this tool and use it on every new project.
  • The most important question here: “Is this way the best way to complete the task? Or did we choose this way only out of habit and because we have always done it this way?”

Tip 3: Get feedback

  • Feedback from colleagues and customers is important to see matters and also yourself from different perspectives.
  • Seek out dialog and exchange ideas. Maybe you are not alone in being critical of some routines or in recognizing potential for improvement in certain areas.

Tip 4: Use tools and methods

  • Smart philosophies and good resolutions are not always easy to implement. Tools can help you with this.
  • The following tools and methods are helpful:
    • Pugh-Matrix, with the help of which solution alternatives are evaluated on the basis of certain criteria
    • Quality Function Deployment (QFD) as a method to implement customer requirements and expectations in products and services. The method is used to set the right priorities.
    • Walt-Disney-Method, which considers problems from different points of view.
    • Business Model Canvas, to analyze business models analytically
    • TRIZ-Method, with which thought barriers can be overcome and solutions are found in an inventive way
  • Attention: “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. Some methods and tools may require a certain amount of know-how and experience in order to be useful. Do not hesitate to seek support.

Tip 5: Let yourself be inspired

  • Cultural events, trade fairs or museums are a great way to gain exposure to fresh ideas, experiences and perspectives from new people. Experiencing new things helps break through entrenched thought patterns.
  • Meetups, Startup Nights and similar events are ideal to share and get to know new ideas and business models. Especially in the startup sector, not all business ideas end in success. But exactly this culture of failure and the experiences gained from it, ideally from third parties, will broaden your own horizons.
  • Science fiction literature can also help to open the mind to new ideas. Dealing with visions of the future trains the “sense of possibility,” the sense of what is not but could be. We always talk about “growth thinking”. You can read what we mean by this in our article Growth Killer.

Tip 6: Contribute to the change

  • Be willing to change. Your attitude is important to enable change and prevent operational blindness.
  • Routines are often convenient, and learning processes involve a lot of work. In the end, however, the effort is worth it. That’ s why you should defeat your weaker self. Or do you want to stop moving forward?
  • Set a good example and motivate your colleagues to do the same. Change is achieved easiest when we work together.

Conclusion

The term operational blindness describes the lack of attention to operational processes caused by routines. In order to recognize and prevent it, it is important to question existing processes and one’s own actions and to constantly deal with novelties and changes. A willingness to change and innovate must thereby be present. Different questions and methods can help with self-reflection and the collection of ideas.

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