Tag situational awareness

End Game Analysis: “Mind the Gap”

This article, and the articles that follow analyze my thoughts on what I am calling my “end game.” You can read more about this concept here.

In my last post, I spoke about two positions within a “relationship spectrum,” one based on complete openness, and the other, extreme isolation. Understanding and managing what lies between can enable one to make better decisions when interacting with different people, all of whom have unique perspectives and ways of operating.

You may be asking: “But what does this have to do with the original end game? Isn’t the end game about critical thinking and advancement?”

I’ve learned that very close and fulfilling relationships can act as a source of fuel towards greater intellectual and creative achievement; their benefits are multifold. In contrast, challenging relationships can interfere with one’s ability to concentrate and ultimately advance.

At their worst, the ending of close relationships can result in severe depression and anxiety, the combination of which can cease all effort for an extended timeframe. Without an appropriate course correction, this decreased activity can begin to permeate into other areas.

This can be a major problem.

I used to believe that the fluid nature of relationships made it naturally resistant to any form of management. I no longer believe this. Relationships involving some type of mental disorder require considerable patience, understanding, and need to be carefully managed. Relationships that do not harbor such disorders also require a certain degree of management, although to a lesser degree.

While self-awareness is invaluable, situational awareness is what really matters here. Thus, the ability to remain mobile is largely dependent upon the relationships one finds him or herself in, and how each relationship should be managed, or ultimately contained (more about this later).

Given the various relationship types, personalities, and situations that blend the two, it is difficult to share specific examples. Books like “How to Deal with Difficult People” provide this type of guidance fairly well in both a lighthearted yet grounded way.

In my next post I’ll talk about an initial set of relationship principles that can enable one to effortlessly “mind the gap” without letting emotions run the show.


The Fog of War.

In one of my earlier posts, I introduced the concept of “situational awareness” – a concept critical to pilots, and anyone else who needs to maintain focus and concentration in the midst of “chaos”.

As alluded to in the post, when problems start to develop such that one’s situational awareness is compromised, one is left “defenseless” for a certain time period until situational awareness is restored.  While there are many times when situational awareness is restored, there are times when regaining situational awareness is impossible.

Due to its military applicability, this period of ambiguity is commonly known as “the fog of war”.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink“, he calls special attention to a military leader by the name of Paul Van Riper.  Given his extensive military leadership experience, he was asked to participate in a highly complex military strategy scenario to determine its viability in the “real world”.  Upon receiving his “objective” and gaining an understanding of this new “leadership strategy”, he decided to forgo the instructions provided him and instead lead as he had done in past combat situations.  Leading his team in this manner allowed him to stay focused on the objective without getting bogged down in unnecessary “tiered” and complex leadership strategies.  Interestingly enough, the high-tech strategic principles employed by his adversary found themselves lacking situational awareness and ultimately within a “fog of war” of their own creation.

This concept, in my view, has applicability outside the military realm as well.

In the workplace, the likelihood that such a “fog” will exist depends upon leadership capability, organizational structure and communication pathways.  As with the military equivalent, and taking a cue from the associated Wikipedia entry, this “fog” can exist at multiple levels:

  • Strategic
  • Management
  • Operational
  • Tactical

One major cause for the “fog of war” condition is a breakdown that spans these four levels of authority.  It’s similar to the “operator game” where disconnects in communication increase as the number of connection points increases (i.e. the original meaning gets lost in translation).

While communication breakdowns are natural and perhaps unavoidable in the larger sense, as you increase the frequency and magnitude of “direction setting”, resources “on the ground” will begin to lose a sense for their own judgment and will eventually become incapable of action if and when these directional communications cease.  Thus, one way to combat this problem is to do as Paul Van Riper did – provide general direction and guidance, but leave the “real” decision-making to those held accountable for doing the work.

This problem also finds its way in interpersonal relationships.  A good example of when the “fog of war” can introduce itself is within the “pursuer / distancer” pattern.

In most normal circumstances, a relationship typically starts on a level playing field.  However, as each partner gains more knowledge of the other, each partner may end up playing either the “pursuer” or “distancer” role.  The pursuer is someone who wants to talk often about the relationship and will want to spend more time together, while the”distancer” will want to talk about practical issues and spend more time individually.  As this cycle continues and escalates, the pursuing partner will eventually be seen in a negative light – i.e. as someone who accuses and complains.  Not surprisingly, the distancing partner will also be seen in negative light – i.e. she/he does not “care” about the relationship and is generally aloof.  In many circumstances, these beliefs are rarely valid – i.e. both parties usually have a joint interest in the relationship as a whole.  However, the “fog of war” ultimately causes a lack of situational awareness and the relationship suffers unnecessarily.  If both partners regain situational awareness, breaking free from this “fog” is possible (at least in the short-term until more sufficient dialogue takes place).

How does one maintain enough situational awareness to avoid the “fog of war” or to at least “regain” awareness more rapidly?

At a basic level, I think the key to avoiding the “fog of war” (or minimizing one’s stay) is for all parties to understand it in principle.  Having awareness that such a “fog” is possible will empower each participant and will enable them to slow things down and take inventory of what is really happening.

At a more advanced level, this collective awareness is ultimately realized through a “shared mental model”.  In essence, such a model provides the team (or partners) with a common set of discrete operating principles that enable them to maintain focus and to realize when the other has lost situational awareness.  It boils down to understanding 1) the task and team goals, 2) their individual tasks and 3) team member goals and responsibilities.  Via this shared mental model, there is a greater likelihood that at least one team member will maintain situational awareness.  This very possibility is the key to preventing others from entering the “fog of war” and to quickly pull them out of an existing “fog”.


Discovering Situational Awareness.

This post discusses a topic well known in the aviation field known as “situational awareness” (SA).  I first learned about this topic several years ago when I was learning how to fly.  The book I read is part of the larger “Controlling Pilot Error” series and is, not surprisingly, called Situational Awareness.

The summary of this text is as follows: (excerpt from Amazon.com)

Do you pilot with constantly acute mental accuracy and analysis? This book helps you to: overcome the passive pilot syndrome involved in many aviation accidents; learn to “prepare to be aware”; sharpen perception of your surroundings; build a second sense for detecting loss of SA; recover quickly from temporary disorientation; and learn about cockpit avionics that warn of SA losses.

When I read this book, I found this concept interesting because I (naively) believed I would be better prepared to deal with this problem once I got in the air.  In the subsequent flight lesson I quickly learned how one can lose situational awareness and just how difficult it is to retrieve it.

In contrast to other flights, the day when I lost situational awareness came when there was an increased amount of traffic and I had not flown for 2-3 weeks.  The combination of these two variables resulted in my loss of situational awareness.

When things become disorienting, whether it involves poor weather, increased radio chatter, or heavy traffic, pilots of all experience levels (not all) have a tendency to redirect their attention to the airplane’s controls and gauges vs. focusing their attention outside the cabin.  Much to my surprise, I (not to mention my instructor!) found myself doing just that – it was almost like my eyes were somehow drawn to the interior of the cabin trying to make sense of what was going on.  Needless to say, this can be very dangerous and has been a factor in many fatal accidents.

In many flight manuals and texts, the recurring message is: “Fly the Plane!”.  The gauges and radios are there to supplement your experience, but they are not there to keep the plane in the air – that’s your primary responsibility.

While this concept sounds simple enough – it can be very challenging.  To learn how to manage complexity and to mentally “remove” yourself from extraneous “distractions” takes practice and understanding.

In my next post, I’ll share some of the recommendations from the text that help one understand, maintain and re-gain situational awareness.  While this has applicability to flight, it also has applicability in normal life – including the workplace.