3 Ways to Eliminate Tunnel Vision and Regain Perspective on Your Business

October 17, 2014

How to Eliminate CEO Tunnel Vision | OpenView Blog
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a 30-minute conversation with Mark Organ, the founder and former CEO of Eloqua (which sold to Oracle for $810 million in 2012) and the current founder and CEO of Influitive, an advocate marketing platform that’s pioneering an entirely new category.
You can watch the full video of our interview here — it’s the latest installment in our new Founder’s Corner series. But I also wanted to share some of the key leadership takeaways from that conversation, many of which echoed some of my recent conversations with expansion-stage software company CEOs.
mark organ_circleThe general theme of those takeaways: CEOs need to strike the right balance between managing day-to-day operations and short-term execution with bigger picture personal and professional introspection and analysis.
All too often, I meet with executives who fail to do the latter because they get caught up in the rigamarole of day-to-day business management. Even CEOs with the best intentions often find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to take a step back and look at the whole picture. Inevitably, that tends to cause the kind of tunnel vision that makes relatively small problems and hiccups look like absolute disasters. Even worse, when CEOs don’t set time aside for their own development, they can lose sight of key market trends, evolving customer needs, or opportunities for innovation.

How to Avoid Tunnel Vision: 3 Tips from Eloqua and Influitive Founder Mark Organ

So, how can you avoid tunnel vision? Here are three tips that I picked up from my interview with Mark Organ (and conversations with a few other executives I respect) that should help you get a better complete view of the masterpiece you’re creating:

  1. Pick Up the Phone (or Hop on a Plane) to Meet with Customers. Organ’s idea for Influitive came from his time at Eloqua, where he first started seeing the power of customer feedback and advocacy. Influitive is built to help companies identify, mobilize, and recognize customer advocates, but Organ also preaches the importance of talking directly to customers, too. What do they like about your product? What don’t they like about it? What features are missing? How can you make them more successful? Asking those questions can yield feedback that changes your perspective on business priorities.
  1. Embrace the OODA Loop. If you’re not familiar with John Boyd’s OODA Loop framework, I highly recommend spending a few minutes to read this post from tech executive Chris Taylor on VentureBeat. At a high level, the OODA Loop process was designed for fighter pilots to “Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.” In building a tech business, the same idea applies. The quicker you’re able to observe and orient what’s happening around you, the quicker you’ll be able to decide, act, and, ultimately, innovate.
  1. Get Out of Your Office and Walk the Hallways. To piggy back off of the fighter pilot analogy, the best field generals possess a keen understanding of what’s happening on the front lines and go out of their way to boost troop morale. Try sitting down with some of your more junior employees and ask them what they like (or don’t like) about your company. What changes would they make? What are customers telling them? You may get guarded answers at first, but the more you make yourself present and available, the better information you’ll collect.

I get it — you’re busy as hell. You barely have time to eat lunch every day, let alone a half hour to sit down with Joe from accounting to talk about his feelings.
But I’m not suggesting that you should do these things all the time. Schedule a customer visit once a quarter. Pick an employee to meet with once a week. Assemble a team to help you execute the OODA Loop and report back to you. You’ll figure out the right rhythm as you go along, but the key is to do things that allow you to step back and get a fresh perspective on your company and it’s development.
You might not like what you see and it might require an ego check to make changes, but that’s not such a bad thing. After all, it’s better to know what’s broken and have time to fix it than to find out after it’s already too late.
Image courtesy of C.P. Storm