This post became much more topical (and dismal) as I was writing it. In the current environment, it is not possible to talk about situational pictures or situation assessment without the author’s or the reader’s mind quickly drifting to the attack on Ukraine. But so be it. Triggered by my recent Hybrid Times Podcast conversation with military professor Aki Huhtinen, I thought I’d write about the situational picture as a component in ordinary civilian and organizational life decision-making. The concept, I firmly believe, applies to both war and peace. So, here we go.
When you make a decision, whose situational picture do you rely on? Legacy media, social media, friends, resemblance to a past occurrence, a dream, maybe? Or are you waiting for whoever is trying to sell you something to paint a picture for you to believe in?
Even if it sounds a bit of an overkill in ordinary life, the concept of a situational picture is noteworthy. What are the pieces of information I need to put together a somewhat objective picture of what’s going on and what are the forces at play? How can I access, filter, analyze and synthesize such information? How can I resist obvious fallacies like confirmation bias, getting overly emotional, and succumbing to the herd mentality?
I don’t know about you, but I have seen many investment decisions made, many boardroom agreements reached, many disputes solved (or mishandled) with the decision-makers relying on just fragments of information or just an attitude. Waiting for a complete and clear picture to emerge and settle, especially in a fast-moving situation, is, of course, irresponsible, but so is not even trying to find and fit together the pieces available. So instead, many things are decided based on just a sales pitch or a hunch.
The idea of a situational picture is probably most familiar to officers in the military, capable investors, and political advisors. Not that they get it right either. Just think of Putin’s gamble in Ukraine, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, WeWork IPO, or Trump victory.
But one should try. Lieutenant colonel Huhtinen, for the second time on the podcast, spoke this time at length about the unreliable and messy informational landscape that we all find ourselves in and what to do about it. He pointed out the difficulties in synchronizing the picture painted by the contemporary media moving at the speed of light and the slow-moving physical reality. This asynchrony creates frustration in both the leaders and the citizens and opens opportunities to benefit from the situation. A situational picture, in this case, is a hybrid that combines an analysis of the communication landscape and forces shaping it and plenty of intelligence from the physical world.
Huhtinen suggested that in the future we all may have digital tools to build a personal, situational picture before we make decisions. This would mean a personalized algorithm that sniffs all sorts of information relevant to us from open databases, then structures and analyzes it, and finally presents it to us on a dashboard, maybe directly to our field of vision.
It sounds sci-fi, and it could be as long a wait as level 5 autonomous cars, but the idea is what’s important here. Even today, one can almost always take a breath, step back and think of the premises of one’s situational picture. Who’s choosing the facts? What’s missing? Do the proportions make sense? In other words, how can I adjust the picture to improve the quality of my decisions?
Jaakko Tapaninen | Great Point Ltd
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