High AR

Mastering Turbulence through High AR

Being Aware

Engaged in Active Sensemaking, Learning and Knowledge Management

Being Aware – the Five S’s

Knowing what and how you know. Continuous learning and knowledge management for High AR.

Being Aware is a complex and sophisticated capability. Limitations in its performance are the source of some of history’s most notable failures to act either with agility or resiliency. It is concerned with not just what is going on in the environment but how an individual, team, organization or ecosystem perceives the events and experiences in an environment, and then give meaning to them in terms of their action implications. Turbulence increases complexity and ambiguity as dynamic interdependencies among parts of the environment form and impinge upon each other, creating not only first-order but second and third-order effects playing out in unanticipated ways. The explosion of information accelerated by information technologies and global scale compounds this dynamic.

Being Aware is composed of five robust and effectively integrated core processes. Assuring robustness and integration demands a firm commitment to continuous learning and knowledge management that creates understanding about the knowledge challenges and gaps which limit action. Consistent with our Capabilities Matrix, these five processes occur at all four levels of our model. These processes are:

  • Scanning – Searching internally and externally for information about what is happening and potentially happening (I.e., scanning over time), gauging the saliency of ideas and events.
  • Sensemaking – Giving meaning to the scanned information in terms of patterns, interdependencies, and possible action implications.
  • Shaping – Assembling information in ways that encourage dialogue and additional meaning.
  • Sharing – Making action-loaded information accessible in the right time and place for decision making.
  • Storing – Creating readily accessible and searchable knowledge bases for future access, context and perspective.
Figure 5.2 - Joeseph McCann & John W. Selsky, Mastering Turbulence

Being Aware as an Individual

Understanding how turbulence impacts cognitive functioning.

At an individual level, Being Aware means understanding how cognitive functioning occurs – how you form mental maps and models of your world. How you know and think about things around you, in other words. This is the realm of cognitive psychologists and philosophers and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the science associated with it. However, in practice it means knowing how your sense of purpose – your sense of self-identity, values and beliefs – impact what you elect to see (and not see) around you and how these affect your behavior.

Turbulence creates an explosion of information and it is impossible to keep up with all the information generated each minute, let alone day or year. As a result, you can easily miss important information that presents possible opportunities and threats. Cognitive stress imposed by too much information needing to be absorbed too quickly erodes your capacity for sensemaking. Clarity of purpose provides a signpost or basis for judgment, and attention to the dimensions of three dimensions of wellness increases and sustains brain performance.

Inherent in the awareness capability is the individual’s commitment to continuously learning and creating an organized, systematic approach to managing what is learned. If the environment is creating demands for new knowledge and skills, those demands can be met more easily.

Recommendations for Being Aware as an Individual

  • Read and acquire new information in a systematic way that assures breadth and depth. Wherever possible, acquire that information first-hand, question the source and validity of what you detect, and convert it into actionable knowledge.
  • Do not over-focus on narrow silos of knowledge. Develop and scan diverse sources and periodically reach beyond established sources and ways of acquisition. Value heterogeneity and diversity of sources and forms.
  • Talk to a diverse set of others a lot about what they see and hear. Seek their opinions and form your own in response.
  • Use your personal vision statement as a basis for weighing and judging what you perceive and what it may mean to you.
  • Practice life-long learning. Seek opportunities to acquire new knowledge and skills regardless of stage of life and career.

Being Aware as a Team

Valuing team member differences in building shared appreciations of the environment

At a team level, Being Aware places the responsibility on team members to share their individual cognitive maps and models about the environment and come to an agreement about what features are common to all. While member differences are to be valued, it is essential that there is sufficient agreement among members to form collective action hypotheses. Disagreements about what is being perceived and what it means for action by the team are a normal part of team dialogue, but can impede agility and resiliency if not managed properly, because responses can be slowed and confused. Such disagreements are often at the root of poor leadership team dynamics.

There are critical team-level competencies and processes that can be developed to support “shared appreciations” of the environment. Meaningful and structured interactions among members for scanning, sensemaking and sharing information need attention, for example. Developing systems thinking skills at a team level is another. Building solid communications skills, problem solving and decision making processes that invite diverse views and function under high levels of uncertainty are essential.

Recommendations for Being Aware in Teams

  • Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each team member’s cognitive style in how situations are perceived and judged.
  • Appreciate that differences in members’ cognitive styles can be a source of opportunity because they offer diverse perspectives on issues and problems.
  • Teams allow broader scanning and searching of environments when done consciously and systematically. Talk about it within the team and create regular opportunities to gather and discuss information and ideas about what is occurring. Avoid “group think.”
  • Work on core group processes for problem solving and decision making, particularly for managing differences and conflict.

Being Aware as an Organization

Deploying systematic and sophisticated technologies and processes for the Five S’s while embracing organizational learning and knowledge management.

Being Aware at an organization level is compounded by the sheer size and global scale of many companies. Their complexity complicates every one of the Five S’s, and increasing turbulence exacerbates this. Traditional, hierarchical organization designs tend to over-emphasize – and reward – centralized and functionalized awareness processes. The challenge becomes decentralizing the Five S’s to the levels and places within the organization with the best clarity and capacity for sensemaking, then building shared appreciations at the highest level in the organization where the most resources and effort can be applied for integrated, sustained shaping, sharing and action.

For this to occur, the organization must recognize the critical importance of organizational learning and knowledge management. The concept of the “learning organization” is more relevant today than ever. It’s essential to build strategic appreciations about “how do we know what we know?” and “are we meeting our knowledge challenges?” based upon what is known and must be known, given what the environment is presenting. Companies need to make investments in technologies, learning and communications systems, often substantial and definitely sustained, in order to answer those questions.

Recommendations for Being Aware as an Organization

  • Embrace concepts and methods for promoting organizational learning and knowledge management, particularly systems thinking and tools designed for complex, uncertain situations.
  • Make the investments necessary to bring organizational learning and knowledge management to their most sophisticated yet accessible and practical levels. The goal is to adopt appropriate technologies that are useful tools.
  • Accept the idea that centralized processes for managing the Five S’s have limits. The goal is to encourage those processes at the most appropriate level in the company, then integrate results for most impactful action.

Being Aware as an Ecosystem

Building shared appreciations for collective action.

Being Aware at an ecosystem level requires recognition that an organization’s interdependencies with others in its operating environment are sources of turbulence. Rapid change combined with disruptive change in the wider contextual environment creates turbulence for all members of an ecosystem. Unilateral actions of one organization or subset of organizations create contingencies for everyone. Collective action may be the best way for creating defensible, less turbulent, space for the entire ecosystem and letting each organization respond. Collective action must spring from a shared appreciation of their interdependencies, what is happening in the environment, and a sense of shared fate in terms of the implications the environment poses for them. Today, the overreliance upon traditional, ritualized institutional forms for collective action (e.g., the UN, the IMF) are not keeping pace with increasing turbulence.

Shared appreciations are difficult to generate in turbulent environments. For these to emerge, active collaboration is required in performing the Five S’s. Members of the respective ecosystems interact and share information, and specialized ecosystem-level organizations and groups such as industry trade groups, research consortia and regional chambers of commerce may perform scanning and sense making processes resulting in research, reports, and calls for action. As global networks of organizations take shape, even more sophisticated and effective ways of collaborating will develop at the ecosystem level.

Recommendations for Being Aware in an Ecosystem

  • Recognize interdependencies with other organizations and groups and how they impact your organization.
  • Embrace the idea that collective action may well be the most effective response to shared conditions and problems, even if it is challenging to generate and manage.
  • Join and actively participate in industry trade groups and organizations. Interact with others to share information and reach shared understanding about what is happening in everyone’s respective operating environment.
  • Develop competencies and skills for collaboration.
  • Think alliances, networks, joint ventures, consortia and cross-sector partnerships.