An Embarrassment of Tunnel Vision

September 27, 2023 – Approximate Read Time: ~8 minutes

Image by Anita S. on Pixabay

“Tunnel vision” is a term that refers to two serious problems. One is an individual medical affliction that causes peripheral vision loss in the eyes. The other is a thinking affliction that can strike individuals and even groups. Last week I was reminded how embarrassing and damaging tunnel vision, as a thinking affliction, can be.

All things considered it was not devastating. It was, though, an embarrassing experience.

When I was about 10 years old my Uncle John, an excellent amateur golfer, taught me to play golf. He set me up in the backyard with an empty bucket, a nine iron, and a dozen balls. He taught me how to “chip” a golf ball and told me to keep practicing until I could “chip” all of the balls into the bucket. Then, when I could do that, I would be allowed to go to a real golf course. About four years and thousands of “chips” later, I was allowed on a golf course. In the process of practicing, I fell in love with the sport.

I played competitive golf in high school and for a year in college. Then work, family, and life in general became more complicated and expensive. I didn’t play much golf for several decades. About 10 years ago, I began to play again when I found a challenging yet inexpensive golf course near my home. I regained my skills and last year I started competing in tournaments again.

Which brings me to last week.

The tournament was at a beautiful golf course near the Atlantic Ocean in Maryland. Its location near the ocean meant it was flat, sandy, and had lots of water hazards. I had been warned by my playing partner, who had experience with the course, that the 18th hole was particularly difficult. We were evenly matched. His advantage was that previous experience. He eventually finished second in the tournament, and I was on track to finish not far behind him and within the top ten.

Then came the 18th hole.

To do well on the 18th hole golfers have to make two long and highly accurate shots (known as “strokes” in golf). The first could not be more than 200 yards and it had to be placed on the right side of the fairway. The second had to carry about 170 yards over an expanse of heather, marsh, and water, landing either directly on the green or within 10 yards of it on any side. It was a tiny target for such a distance.

My first stroke (drive) was perfect, landing exactly where I wanted it. My next stroke came down to a choice between two clubs. One would give me the distance, but I was not as accurate with it. I was more accurate with the second club, but it might not give me the needed distance unless I hit it extremely well.

I went with the second club and hit a magnificent stroke…into the river.

I took a penalty stroke, dropped a second ball, and hit away, using the same club. It went across the river, but I swung so hard that I pushed it to the right and into a marshy area. A rules judge, who was standing behind me said, “Well, you might find that one. If you don’t, just come back over and hit again from here.” I couldn’t find it when I got to the other side, so I came back.

My third stroke, still with the same club, was a glorious one that skipped like a stone across the river…until it sank to the bottom. At least the skipping made it look really cool.  

Taking my third penalty, I dropped my fourth ball and, still using the same club as the previous three attempts, hit the ball across the river (into the marsh again though I was able to find it), chipped onto the green, and holed out.

My score for that par 4 hole: 10. That was enough to move me from 7th place finish to 15th place…in front of an audience. Ugh.

Whether you play, understand, watch, or even think of golf as a sport, this anecdote stands as an excellent example of what it means to experience tunnel vision as a thinking affliction. The fount of all human knowledge (Wikipedia) describes tunnel vision as a metaphor for a logical fallacy that leads “individuals to focus on cues that are consistent with their opinion and filter out cues that are inconsistent with their viewpoint.”  

My opinion was that the second club I chose was the better of the two for the task. Despite early confirmation that I was wrong (the first ball flying magnificently into the river), I doubled down and did it again, and again, and again.

A good friend who has been a pilot told me that he was warned about the risks of tunnel vision when he was being trained to fly. Except, as a pilot, if he made the same bad decision over and over again, it could cost him his life…not just a 15th place finish instead of 7th.

Tunnel vision is a thinking affliction that not only plagues individuals, but organizations, voluntary groups, businesses, and whole communities. Its insidious nature means that you can be well into the tunnel before you’ve realized you are there or how far you have gone.

One cure for this kind of tunnel vision is having a trusted colleague or friend who can help you see you are making that same bad decision repeatedly and catapulting yourself into the tunnel. In most tournaments, I play on a team with my son, Jake, who is quick to let me know when I’m succumbing to tunnel vision on the golf course.

Leaders and their organizations also need trusted colleagues who can help them see when they are falling, or have fallen, into the tunnel vision trap. Over the past 10 years we’ve been honored to help several clients pull out of their tunnel vision or avoid it altogether.

So that brings me to this: Who do you turn to when tunnel vision threatens? Because life and business are more than golf, it is a question for which we need to have a ready answer.

Getting to Third Space with Lamar & Tom is a new podcast from Tenacious Change. It features conversations between two lifelong friends, Lamar Roth and Tom Klaus. Together they explore how to get to a Third Space – a space where two or more people with opposing viewpoints, ideologies, and worldviews can come together to hear, listen, share, and connect with one another.

In each episode, Lamar and Tom carve out a Third Space where everything can be on the table for open, straightforward, honest, and, yet kind and respectful, inquiry.  Getting to Third Space with Lamar & Tom is now available on four podcast platforms: Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and Apple Podcasts. Check it out and be sure to subscribe on your favorite platform so you can be alerted to new episodes. If you have something you’d like Lamar and Tom to discuss, or even just feedback, you can send them a voicemail via Spotify. You can also email them directly at or Thanks for checking it out!

S1E2 – Noam Chomsky, Exhausted Americans, and Bob the Old Goat dropped yesterday, September 26, 2023.

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