When the invite from Toyota came in, Ford’s senior executive team was skeptical.
We invite you to visit our newest manufacturing plant. Send your top engineers and bring all your questions. We’re anxious to share our methods.
When the engineers came back from their visit, they confirmed the skepticism. “It wasn’t a real auto manufacturing facility,” the plant engineers explained. “Sure they had chassis and tools, and people, but spare parts and components were virtually nonexistent. The warehouse was too small to support the level of schedule activity. It was staged, like a movie.”¹
With the benefit of history, we know that it was not staged. The “experts” from Ford saw the real thing before it displaced Detroit’s auto leadership position.
You’ve likely heard the story of Steve Jobs’ inspiration for what became the Mac. In exchange for a pre-IPO allocation for Apple stock, Xerox invited Job and some of his engineers to get an inside peek into their PARC facility. While there, the Xerox engineers shared some of the innovations they’d added to their Alto machine like the “what you see is what you get” graphic user interface, bitmapping and a mouse.
One part of the story that is often told wrong is that Xerox didn’t know what they had and as a result they let Jobs “steal” it. This isn’t true. They knew the Alto was powerful. They introduced the Alto in a 1972 commercial as the first desktop computer with a graphic user interface, showed how it could revolutionize your office life by using things like email, word processing and reminders “all controlled by a cursor.” Why have most people never heard of the Alto, and today Apple is the most valuable company in history? Because Xerox thought that the Alto would simply be too expensive to put on sale commercially. The reality is that the failure of Xerox to capitalize on their invention was a technology or vision failure, it was really a product marketing failure.
Think about this for a moment. If the expert engineers from Ford couldn’t see the value of the just-in-time, LEAN manufacturing process and the product marketing experts at Xerox couldn’t see a path to viability with something as powerful as the Alto, what’s the likelihood that a great demo, or presentation will be enough for the companies in your target market to change their course/speed to embrace your solution? These are two powerful examples of a barrier that faces all humans and has a profound impact on your ability to position your products and services to generate new opportunities by highlighting the amazing outcomes you create and the problems you solve. The barrier is called “problem blindness.”
What Is Problem Blindness
In his most recent book Upstream: The Quest To Solve Problems Before They Happen, Dan Heath shares this description: the belief that negative outcomes are natural, inevitable, or simply out of our control. When we’re blind to a problem, we treat it like the weather. We may know it’s bad, but ultimately, we just shrug our shoulders. “What am I supposed to do about it? It’s the weather.” Problem blindness creates passivity, even in the face of enormous harm. Problem blindness explains why extraordinarily smart people do extraordinarily dumb things or make bad decisions.