It is the best of times, it is the worst times. And in all these times, situational awareness can be very helpful.
Whether it’s within a team as they navigate unknown territory, or at an organisational level when contemplating change.
When my 80 year old father-in-law, Harry comes to visit, we have fascinating conversations and learn much about each other. (He’s been my FIL for 28 years).
On one visit, he’d been listening to me reflect at the end of the day about the things I had been doing and observing in my work. To some degree, it’s all very strange to him. Harry left school at 12, and started working straight away in the small rural community where he lived in NZ. The majority of his work has been outdoors and physical/manual labour. Yet we have found interesting intersections in skills from his workscape and mine which has been indoors and conceptual/social labour.
I mentioned that one of the concepts I had been raising in groups was ‘situational awareness’ – of which I see a lack.
Sidebar: Situational awareness is conscious knowledge of what’s happening around us in our immediate environment, and what that means for decisions we might want or need to make. There are two key aspects: perception and comprehension.  In essence: what you knowledge you take in with your senses, and what meaning you make of it.
Back to the story.
Harry told me about when he was 20 and working as a deer hunter for the NZ government (culling work). He had got himself to a hut in the bush and was keeping an eye on the weather for a particular pattern: where it would be wet and blowing. When one such day arrived, he left the hut to go hunt. His fellow hunters thought he was crazy to go out in such weather. He had made this choice because he had noticed over a period of time, the behaviour of deer when certain weather hit, to take themselves to a singular spot to get away from the bad weather. It was also a spot where the wet weather reduced the noise of moving around and through a particular scrub in this spot, that was very noisy in dry weather. On this day he got himself to the spot, and got 6 deer – which was exceptional success. His fellow hunters were astounded and couldn’t understand why.
Imagine if Harry was the head of a business team or organisation – or even just a workscape-savvy individual, and he was reading signals and observing the behaviours of people under different circumstances. What ‘competitive advantage’ could be gained by responding in conditions that others didn’t see as favourable, yet were in fact a useful confluence of conditions and events?
Harry said he never told the other hunters – who had laughed at him – what he had perceived, and the meaning he made of his perception. He wasn’t sure they would understand, or even trust his thinking.
I asked him how long had he been hunting when this story happened. He said he first used a gun when he was 16 and didn’t start deer hunting work for another couple of years. So at 20 this wasn’t the work of a wizened older person, but a young person. We mused on whether it was nature or nurture that got him to it his point. He said nobody told him what to look out for, of even to be on the lookout for particular things, he just did it.
Now at 80 years of age – and even from the time I first met him – he’s continued to be observant and see signals, and wonder about what they mean. He’s not ‘working’ anymore, but he’s sure learning! His mind is active and I get to have the pleasure of having very meaningful conversations with him about my work, even though we have experienced vastly different things.
Couple of questions to leave you with:
1. Are you cultivating awareness of what is going on around you and understanding what that might mean, such that you might spot signals that enable unimagined outcomes or pathways?
2. Have you spoken with someone who has a vastly different work experience to you, to see what you might have in common, and what might be different? (This is one excellent way to increase your situational awareness beyond your current position in a workscape.)
You might be surprised by what you learn, in answer to all these questions.
Helen Palmer is Founder and Team Development Facilitator at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.
 N., Pam M.S., “SITUATION AWARENESS,” in PsychologyDictionary.org, April 13, 2013, (accessed 5 October, 2020).
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