How Construction Business Owners Can Learn from Bad Decisions

From business owner to prison cell and back, Kevin McCarthy shares his lessons learned from ignoring ‘blind spots’

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The unconscious biases that bedevil everyone, including business leaders and corporate decision-makers, flipped Kevin McCarthy’s life upside down and dropped him in a prison cell for 33 months, convicted of a crime he committed unwittingly.

“When we aren’t paying attention to our blind spots, they wreak havoc in all areas of our lives,” McCarthy said while delivering a keynote address at the Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) EquipmentSHIFT 2019 conference in Kansas City, MO.

McCarthy, now an accomplished public speaker and author of “BlindSpots: Why Good People Make Bad Choices,” developed one of the largest Century 21 real estate sales offices in the country, and then later founded a prominent technology start-up that he sold in the early 2000s.

The next opportunity went the opposite direction.

In a nutshell, he worked as a consultant for a company he thought was preparing for an initial public offering (IPO). The IPO never happened. His boss had created a complex scheme to drag out the process and defraud other stakeholders. His boss was charged with the largest stock fraud in Washington state history.

McCarthy, blind to the nefarious work above him, said he unknowingly contributed to the crimes. And in 2004, when the prison sentence came down, he paid a lofty price.

While in prison, he studied the pitfalls of his own demise, and in the years since he has sought to shine light on the most pervasive forms of blind spots the clouded perceptions and snap judgements that, while they rarely result in prison stays, hamper decision-makers, hinder workplace teamwork, slow productivity and, ultimately, adversely affect customer service and bottom lines across all industries.

To that end, McCarthy shared his top 10 blind spots and encouraged those in attendance at the AEMP conference, to identify which ones they are most susceptible to and, from there, commit to rooting them out of their respective shadows.

Top 10 business blind spots

  1. Self-serving Blind Spot: Perhaps most detrimental of all, people in decision-making positions at times make important business judgements based on what benefits them rather than, foremost, what is in the best interest of the organizations they lead.
  2. Confirmation Bias: Many business leaders form opinions or reach decisions before researching an issue. In turn, they seek data and information to affirm the decisions they’ve already made.
  3. Kernels of Truth: Think of everything that is labeled organic. What does that mean? Go deeper, discover the source of information and its merits.
  4. False Consensus: “You all believe that most people believe what you all believe.” People tend to think they represent the norm, when in fact there really isn’t a norm.
  5. Reactionary Devaluation: In many cases, people make flippant assumptions about others based solely on quick first impressions. But, when we “react to somebody like that, we tend to devalue their contributions” to our own detriment.
  6. 2020 Hindsight: Too often business leaders convince themselves their decisions are wise even when they are not well thought through. “I want to make myself feel better about the decisions I’ve made.”
  7. Anchoring: “Think politics.” Am I really voting for candidates because of who they are or am I anchored to an ideology?
  8. The Halo Effect: A job applicant, for example, makes a glowing first impression on a hiring manager, and that manager then overlooks qualifications and, in many cases, makes poor decisions. “Watch out when you are hiring.”
  9. Powerball Fallacy: “We sometimes make decisions in the emotions of the moment,” as millions of people do when they buy lottery tickets knowing the odds are stacked against them.
  10. The Blind Spot Blind Spot: “You don’t even know your own blind spots.”

These may seem obvious, but McCarthy reminds that he missed many of them for much of his career. It took the better part of three years in a federal prison camp, living among more than 500 other inmates, for him to flesh out the most nagging of blind spots and will himself to spotlight them in his daily life.

He considers himself fortunate. Unlike many of the men he lived amongst while incarcerated, McCarthy learned from the depths of his worst experiences. “Most of these men come out [of prison] the same way they went in.”