Operation Urgent Fury: In Oct 1983, a team of US Navy seals tasked to rescue the Governor-General of Grenada were surrounded by hostile forces and had forgotten their communications equipment in the insertion helicopter. What happened next is a great example of situational awareness...
It is no secret that Navy Seals are one of the best special forces in the world. Some of their declassified missions have made it to pop culture through movies like Captain Phillips and Black Hawk Down. They are known for meticulous planning and intense training regimes. However, in real-life operations, things change rapidly and sticking to the plan rigidly can be fatal. In those scenarios, the training that Seals do with respect to gaining quick situational awareness may be the difference between life and death, as was the case for the Seal Team surrounded by hostile forces in Grenada. One of the soldiers used a landline to call his military base in Fort Bragg to direct AC-130 aircraft fire support on the enemy who were closing in. This bit of thinking allowed other friendly forces to come to their support and probably saved their lives.
When starting a new business or a job, the ability to gain situational awareness quickly, can be critical in defining your trajectory. While this may seem like common sense, I assure you there many examples where tunnel vision took over instead. This usually led to wasted resources a demotivated team and an overall failure to achieve goals. Take for eg. Quibi - they raised approximately USD 2 billion and lasted a little more than a year. Their inability to observe and orient their business to where their customers were had a big part to play in their downfall.
Observe: If you suddenly lose power at your home at night do your run to where the circuit breaker is? I hope not, a stubbed toe can be very painful. In these situations, we usually take it a little slow, feel our way through the house until our eyes have adjusted and then we can walk a little faster. Similarly, the first thing we need to do to attain awareness is to observe.
Here are a few things I do when starting any new venture.
1) Build Personas
Be it for a customer or a coworker, try to understand their motivations and challenges. Do this by paying attention to their interactions with other team members and yourself, and obviously don't feel shy to have a direct conversation with them about what drives them. Start by capturing comments which caught your attention, and over time you will be able to draw a good picture.
2) Understand the Culture
Culture is the average behavior of people in the team/organization. While there are nuances but usually the organizational culture heavily influences the team culture. These are a few things I observe to have a better understanding of culture
a. How is feedback requested and given?
b. How is thefeedback received?
c. Are conflicts driven by ego or passion? Hint: Unwillingness to listen to any reasoning is probably more ego than passion.
d. What do leaders do when conflict arises? eg. Are they diffusing conflict to promote artificial harmony over productive ideological conflict?
3) Understand the Tool Ecosystem
For me the tool ecosystem includes everything from the tech stack to the phone lines. Knowing this will help you understand how to use these tools to navigate in your new environment.
Identifying the best way to reach people who are essential to your success?
Understanding whether the tools are integrated or disconnected?
If there are multiple tools doing similar things?
What proportion of tools are built vs being bought?
As you observe the people, culture and tools, you will start having insights on how the system works. This is when you start to orient your ideas and thoughts to maximize what can be achieved from your system... to be continued.