Avoiding Strategic Tunnel Vision by Regaining Perspective


Returning from a month in Italy, I am looking forward to starting next week with some fresh perspectives. It was a month of rest, relaxation and more than a few indulgences in the Italian ways of fine food, wine and art. Vive la vita.

Our last stop was Florence, home of the Renaissance, the Medicis and perspective in art.

The Annunciation, by Leonardo da Vinci and seen above, at the Uffizi Gallery provides a masterful example of perspective. Commissioned for a monastery, it was to be placed at the height of 2m above the floor and on a wall to the right as a person entered the room.

Leonardo was widely criticised when he finished the piece. From a 90 degree angle, as you would normally view a painting, it was a poor facsimile of life – the face of the angel Gabriel on the left is flat, and the white cornerstones in the wall are not to scale.

But da Vinci was a Master. When viewed at the correct height and from the right-hand side, the scene was perfect. All the viewer required to see the masterpiece in all its glory was to have the right perspective.

Just as when we view the Annunciation from the wrong perspective, so it is with strategic issues and opportunities. Sometimes we just need to get away from the constancy of daily activity to regain perspective.

Think about it. Throughout the year, we are often so focused on the tasks at hand that it is difficult to take a wider view of the context within which we are operating. This is particularly a problem for the strategist. Strategy is, after all, about widening one’s view to make informed choices among competing alternatives.

When we look directly at a problem, we run the risk of tunnel vision that prevents us from seeing all the options and all the opportunities available. Changing perspective can help us to avoid strategic tunnel vision.

Kenichi Ohmae uses the term “strategic tunnel vision” in his book, The Mind of the Strategist in discussing cases where corporate failure could have been avoided had choices been made to change direction before it was too late.

“In each case I have observed, management, at a certain point in time, simply lost sight of the range of alternatives that were still open and rushed with an ever-narrowing mental vision to their own destruction.

The more severe the pressure and the more urgently a broader view is needed, the more dangerously their mental vision seems to narrow down.

Taking a break from the intense focus demanded by our daily work is like widening our field of view to create some new perspectives. To do so, we need to de-tune the concentration on what is directly in front of us.

Holidays are a great way to regain perspective and generate new ideas.

The CEO of a client once commented on as much when, during a strategy workshop, he said, “You know, we each have our best ideas when we have come back from holidays.” He cited a list of seminal ideas that each executive team member had brought to the group, each of which was raised after taking some time off.

Like da Vinci’s Annunciation, a different perspective may be required to see a situation clearly.

Try taking a break. Relax without consciously thinking about work and let your creative powers regenerate. You might restart with some new perspectives.

John Barrington is founder of Barrington Consulting Group, a boutique management consultancy. John has more than 20 years’ experience advising boards and executive teams on strategy and is working on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence with corporate strategy and governance

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