Seeing Our Own Blindspots

When we are passionate about a kaupapa, or see an exciting opportunity, it’s all too easy to get caught up in our own worldview and our own agenda without considering the needs, desires or perspectives of others. Recently our team did some future scenario planning on the potential economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on whānau (link to report). This was an exciting and creative project that I fell in love with and really enjoyed working on.

At the time we had no spare funds, we were stuck in lockdown, and I really wanted to rush out a provocative ‘think piece’ about the future, which we did. We shared a draft of the scenarios with some of our advisors and project partners and they liked it. We even used the scenarios as the basis for an online workshop. What we didn’t do was take the time to share our thinking more widely and get critical feedback on what we had produced. 

So when I recently received some strong critical feedback about the document it came as a bit of a surprise. While the feedback was constructive and well considered, it didn’t pull any punches. Don’t get me wrong, I really valued the feedback and while I wasn’t offended it definitely popped the bubble of self-congratulation I was living in. While I still think the scenarios project was really useful, the experience has made me think about my own inherent bias towards endorsing ideas that appeal to me and the way this tends to reinforce my own perspectives. 

What I am realising is that my own drive and vision to make a positive difference for Māori also involves a blindspot and a bias that my own ideas are the right ones – and that this isn’t necessarily always the case. To become more successful in achieving my desired outcomes, I really need to address this pattern of running ahead and getting stuck in the world I imagine, rather than the real world I share with others. When I do this, my passion, drive, and commitment potentially stop being an asset and I can become my own worst enemy. 

I know that if we try to please everyone, we risk pleasing no one. But I also know that when I don’t engage with diverse views, then I risk entrenching and confirming my own bias. What I want to start doing more of is working with a range of people who don’t necessarily share my assumptions or perspectives. That way we can all gain a broader understanding and the mahi will be better for it. 

In the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown Tokona Te Raki is involved in a number of exciting projects that focus on future skills and the need to transition our workforce to new jobs in different parts of the economy. In my view, having solid data on what the in-demand skills are and where the future job growth is going to be feels like vital information for whānau to have so they can navigate economic change and the coming recession. 

But that is just my view. Am I just following a hunch and reinforcing my own bias?  

As a Māori Futures Collective, so much of the work we do is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. There is pressure to act quickly and get the data into the hands of those who need it. But at the same time I know that the way to address my blindspots and bias is by prototyping and bringing whānau in earlier in the process. It’s often frustrating as when you are under pressure, juggling a thousand kaupapa, it’s these critical steps that are easy to forgo. 

Removing my blinders and taking a more balanced approach will be key as we start to move into some of this new and edgy work on future skills and economic recovery for whānau and hapū. 

This is critical mahi. It’s about complex issues and big changes to the economy. To nail it we have to make it relevant and ensure it connects otherwise what might have been a game changing idea could just end up being mere words on a page. 

The trouble with innovation is that we haven’t done it before and we can’t know if it will work. Here, we have to learn by doing. But if I want to stretch my thinking, see my own blindspots, and ultimately make things better for our people then I need to make time to engage more closely with those not necessarily on the same waka. Ironically it is only when I acknowledge the ‘weakness in my strength’ that I can make my strengths stronger. 

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