Situational awareness is the practice of knowing what’s going on all around us and its implications for the present and the future. Not just looking straight ahead and ignoring everything else. But expanding our vision to take in more of our environment, understanding what it means to us and, most importantly, what we’re going to do about it.
Based on my research into situational awareness, it’s a process and a practice that relies heavily on observation, information gathering and visualization. That makes it an excellent application for mind mapping software.
A 3-step process for cultivating situational awareness
The most popular framework for situational awareness is composed of three steps:
- Perception: Gathering information about our environment. What is happening around us that may be relevant? We need to first have access to the relevant information we need, and then recognize it “in the wild”
- Comprehension: Analysis of the information we’ve gathered, with an eye toward understanding what it means. It’s at this stage of the process that visualization becomes important. This is where we extract meaning from our observations and research.
- Prediction: Based on the first two steps, what do we predict is going to happen next? What does the future look like? What actions are we going to take to counter a potential threat or capitalize on an emerging opportunity?
A fighter pilot is perhaps the most dramatic example of situational awareness in action. Pilots are rigorously trained to process a wealth of information from their eyes and instruments and make split-second decisions on what to do. A sophisticated array of sensors and instruments give him a 360-degree view of what’s going on in the vast airspace around them. The torrent of data from his jet is supplemented by intel from an AWACS airborne command center 500 miles away. His jet’s computers integrate all of this data in front of him, giving him a rich view of his environment.
Let’s say an F22 pilot sees a blip on his head-up display that indicates an approaching aircraft. Is it friendly or an enemy? Where is it headed? What is its intentions? Should he engage it? Shoot it down? Ignore it? The pilot uses his situational awareness training and his state-of-the-art instruments to make an informed decision about this intruder in his airspace.
Retired NFL quarterback Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys had some of the most finely-honed situational awareness and instincts of any quarterback. He was able to quickly perceive what the opposing team’s defense was doing, what it meant and then predicted what he needed to do to adjust his play-calling at the line of scrimmage. He now uses these finely-honed skills to provide color commentary for broadcast coverage of NFL games. He’s so good at it that some sports critics have declared that Romo can “see the future.”
Enhance your situational awareness with mind mapping software
In much the same way, savvy executives can use situational awareness to collect data about their current environment, analyze and extract meaning from it, and make predictions about the future based on it. Here’s how mind mapping software can help at each step:
Perception: Mind mapping software is a powerful, flexible tool for gathering research and information. It can be used to capture a variety of data, including:
- Raw ideas and questions, either in a brain dump or a more structured way
- Web page links
- Attachments to relevant documents
Comprehension: Mind mapping software offers a rich toolset for evaluating, organizing, distilling and classifying information. Relevant capabilities for this steep of situational analysis include:
- Grouping the information and data you’ve gathered into meaningful clusters
- Classifying it using tags, icons/symbols, topic shapes, colors and other attributes
- Using the skeletal structure of the mind map to discern what’s missing, what needs to be clarified, what’s extraneous and where meaning needs to be enhanced.
Prediction: Based on this detailed analysis of your information, you can more easily make decisions on next actions, potential future events and potential scenarios for how they may unfold. One powerful technique is to lay out several possible future scenarios side by side, using separate branches. You can even branch out these scenarios based on binary decisions you could make – yes, we will invest in this acquisition versus maintaining the status quo.
You can also start with an anticipated or desired future state and use the mind map to work backward to the present, imagining what would have to happen to arrive at that future state. It’s a form of reverse engineering, only with events and decisions.
In short, mind mapping software is an incredibly powerful, flexible tool for gathering large amounts of information and data, making sense of it and then making decisions about the future based on it. You won’t find a better tool for developing situational awareness!