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How are you at “Interpreting the Blur?”

Dr. Laura Miller owns Northwest Hills Eye Care in Austin, Texas. She’s been practicing for a number of years and has a very impressive resume. She was the recipient of the “Corning Low Vision Award” when she was a student at the University of Houston as well as the “Young Alumni of the Year” from the Texas Optometric Association. She is currently the past president of the Central Texas Optometric Society. It’s no overstatement to say that Dr. Laura has been passionate about helping people with vision issues for more than 20 years.

In addition to serving her patients with excellence, Dr. Laura is a “Special Needs Buddy” at Central Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. She is also the Consulting Optometrist for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Austin State Supported Living Center. Dr. Laura loves to help people!

She focuses her medical practice on patients with low vision issues, and also sees people who have more typical vision challenges like me. I’ve worn glasses since graduate school days, and every couple of years my prescription has gotten a little stronger as I’ve gotten a little older.

Earlier this year she recommended I try contact lenses. I had a bad experience with contacts more than a decade ago, so I was hesitant at first. Dr. Laura discussed all the advances in contact lens science in the past ten years and convinced me to give it another try. Because I spend many of my days in front of audiences while still needing to look at my notes, she recommended “mono-vision” contacts: one eye has a lens for distance – so I can see workshop participants and audience members – and one eye has a lens for close up – so I can see my notes.

Andy at the optometristHere’s the problem: according to a quick internet search, between 20 and 30 percent of mono-vision lens prospective patients end up not being able to use these type of contacts. These people get headaches, have trouble with depth perception, even nausea is cited as a symptom. Because you’ve got two different lenses, your brain has to make some pretty significant adjustments as it processes the signals your eyes are sending to it so that it can correctly interpret what it sees. For two to three people out of ten, these adjustments are just too challenging for their brains to make.

When I mentioned that to Dr. Miller during my fitting session, she told me she knew about that statistic, but was convinced I’d have no problems. As she explained it, “Because you’ve been wearing glasses for so long, your brain and eyes have gotten good at ‘interpreting the blur.’” I asked her to explain, and she went on, “I suspect most people who struggle with mono-vision lenses have never had glasses before. Their brains haven’t had to deal with blurry images, so they are not quite as adept at making the adjustment. Because of your historical vision issues, your brain has needed to remain more flexible and process imperfect images for a number of years. As a result, your brain is more able to ‘interpret the blur.’”

There’s a leadership lesson hidden in her message for all of us leading in times of change. How are you at “interpreting the blur” as a leader? Are you comfortable seeing your way forward without all the information you wish you had? Can you envision two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time while pondering options? Are you able to make a decision when you have less than 100% clarity? Can you bring into focus the decisions in front of you and your team when everything seems to be whirling around you?

One of my very favorite leadership books is The Contrarians Guide to Leadership by Steven Sample. One of the chapters in this excellent book is about “leading grey in a black-and-white world.” This chapter makes the same point for leaders that Dr. Miller made about eyes: if you’re going to be a leader (particularly in today’s environment) you have to be good at “interpreting the blur.”

Leader: how are you at “interpreting the blur?”

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