Learning to See and Gaining Context

Learning to See and Gaining Context

RAM CHARAN (author of Confronting Reality) wrote an insightful article for strategy+business entitled Sharpening Your Business Acumen. In the article he describes a process to see the big picture in an uncertain world:

Leaders have to be comfortable making decisions with unknown factors; survival depends on those choices producing viable outcomes whatever may happen.

The ability to construct and act upon the mental model of the big picture requires plenty of practice. The essence of the skill is to find patterns from among a wide variety of trends and to posit the missing ingredients that could catalyze convergence. Many great leaders began to practice this exercise when they were younger, in less complex contexts, and over the years they have developed the requisite skills and judgment.

One simple way to begin is by asking yourself a series of six questions, exploring the ideas with colleagues and peers:

1. What is happening in the world today?
2. What does it mean for others?
3. What does it mean for us?
4. What would have to happen first (for the results we want to occur)?
5. What do we have to do to play a role?
6. What do we do next?
He writes that working through these six questions will help executives assess the validity of the company’s moneymaking approach. It is an iterative process that tests the leaders’ mental abilities to qualitatively see how the world is changing — almost always including the perspectives of others. It requires transcending the old rules of thumb that are etched deep in the psyches of many executives, and it means giving up the habitual reliance on precedent that worked for many companies during times of more linear change.

But the ability to perceive trends quickly, or even to make sense of them, will not automatically guarantee success. Rather, success depends on the rigor and discipline applied to the entire process of envisioning the changes, deducing specific actions, and implementing the plan.

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