The Curse of Tunnel Vision

By Jack Lawson

October 3, 2018

One thing I often say to everyone at Catalyst is, “We represent the world outside the box and our customers expect us to challenge the status quo.” In other words, our clients often come to us because they are trying to think outside of their boxes and break free of tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision kills innovation. But what is it exactly?

Tunnel vision—and I’m not talking about the medical affliction—is a tendency to be so focused on an idea or problem that outside factors or solutions are often ignored. They are not ignored intentionally; they are simply unknown. In product development, the walls of the tunnel are usually comprised of the resources, knowledge, and experiences of the people involved in the process. For example, a design team that works for a company that produces toasters will usually design toasters that look and work like...toasters.   And, there is usually very little deviation in the design or technology. This occurs, not because they are incapable of thinking otherwise, but because toasters are what the company knows how to design, make, brand, sell, and distribute. This is why great leaps in innovation and design are usually rare within established product lines at established organizations.

Rethink the status quo.

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A number of years ago, we did some work for a large garden tractor manufacturer who came to us to work out a new design for the wheel assemblies on their mower decks. After some investigation and brainstorming, the solution our design team proposed was based on a wheel concept from a baby stroller project we had recently completed.

The project manager pulled me aside and said, “At first I couldn’t believe we had to hire a development company to help with this, but then I was really blown away that you were able to propose such a simple solution so quickly. It occurred to me that the reason we were struggling so much was because we were limited by what we know, which is designing garden tractors. We didn’t have access to what we didn’t know because we don’t design baby strollers.”

It takes a bold and forward-thinking organization to seek assistance from an outside design consultancy and it can be difficult to explain to the internal development staff why they should seek a different perspective. In fact, many of our clients have large internal design teams with unfathomable development resources. Nevertheless, they still partner with us to get a fresh perspective. Not because they lack creativity or ability, but because they realize that tunnel vision is a silent killer of innovation and most have no idea they are even afflicted with it.

If you want to guard against tunnel vision and believe your team might benefit from outside perspective, contact us for more information. You can also view our design portfolio and case studies on our website.