Strategic awareness rarely features in modern textbooks on management, yet is something that can fundamentally change conversations and decision-making at the Board level.
What is strategic awareness?
In essence, strategic awareness is the fusion of strategic thinking and personal awareness. Strategic opportunities exist all around us, often through the information people carry with them.
Capitalising on these opportunities requires you to be more alert and attentive to what is happening in the world around you. In doing this you are more prepared to gather and evaluate the information you are receiving.
Sometimes this can involve looking at external trends in the global marketplace (political, economic, social or other) and analysing its potential impact on your organisation and its internal decision-making.
How can strategic awareness create new opportunities?
With strategic awareness, leaders operate beyond the rules of competition, allowing previously unseen opportunities to be recognised in a timely manner. This thinking process extends your awareness beyond the doors of your organisation, beyond the confines of your industry or service sector, beyond your current, day-to-day reality.
Strategic awareness and leadership
Leaders who utilise strategic awareness are unaffected by limiting belief systems.
They establish the point of view that there is no short supply of clients, funding, resources or ideas. They are aware that an industry’s structure and rules are not concrete or inevitable. Instead, distinctive market positions and sustainable advantages are rooted out and explored.
If you become attached to a fixed outcome or strategic direction your ability to react to advantageous information is nullified. Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, distinguishes the two kinds of decision-making which keeps his company agile:
- Type 1 decisions are not reversible - consideration must be given before making these decisions
- Type 2 are like walking through a door - if you don’t like the decision, you can always go back
In a recent annual shareholder letter, he wrote: "As organisations get larger, there seems to be a tendency to use the heavy-weight Type 1 decision-making process on most decisions, including many Type 2 decisions. The end result of this is slowness, unthoughtful risk aversion, failure to experiment sufficiently, and consequently diminished invention. We'll have to figure out how to fight that tendency. And one-size-fits-all thinking will turn out to be only one of the pitfalls. We'll work hard to avoid it… and any other large organisation maladies we can identify."
Awareness without strategy
Strategy and awareness are each essential to superior performance, however, each works in very different ways. Awareness without strategy often results in leaders becoming mesmerised by what they could do.
Ideas are bounced around without any plan of action for carrying these ideas through into physical reality. Awareness is important but it's not enough when used in isolation. The greatest idea is worthless if it cannot be brought into the world - strategy allows you to do this.
Strategy without awareness
Being strategic without awareness means focusing on how to improve or enhance the organisation’s current capacity or situation while skipping the question "What else is possible?"
Without awareness, organisations easily become blind to changes and developments that the existing strategy has not taken into account. Leaders are not aware of the changes that are occurring in the world around them.
As a result, other advantageous business moves are not recognised: the existing strategy becomes the "right" way to do things. Being strategic without awareness results in a cognitive bias that is prone to confirm evidence that is believed to be true.
How can you become more strategically aware?
- Take notice of changing conditions around you, especially anomalies
- Be the question: be curious about your customers, partners, stakeholders and generally what is happening in the world
- Consider what is occurring in the national or global environment and look for implications for your sector or organisation
- Understand what is happening in related industries
- Monitor interesting trends or reoccurring data (even in unrelated to you), and always ask "What, if anything, does this mean to us?"
- Ask yourself: "what's not working here, and what do we need to do about it?"
- Evaluate the intelligence you gather with an open mind and without preconceived judgments
Be prepared to take risks, manage these risks exceptionally well, and don't let opportunities pass you by.
So, neither awareness nor strategy alone is sufficient. But when awareness meets strategy, it has the potential to change the world.