Be Aware and Apprehensive Not Afraid

The scariest change and potential disruption on the horizon is the one that you never see coming. The most effective leaders and organizations minimize the potential for chaos by operating in a positive state of perpetual awareness and apprehension. The least effective act as if they are afraid.

Which one are you?

Nokia fell from the dominant force in the mobile phone market to an afterthought in a surprisingly short period of time. Analysts point to many causes for its descent:
  • An inability to shift from a hardware-oriented company to survive in a software-dominated environment.
  • The belief that its brand reputation would be enough to keep the company relevant even if it lagged on new products.
  • The choice to ignore the importance of the American market.

There is truth in all of these, but they are choices that could be overcome by a company that used awareness and apprehension to drive positive action. Nokia, however, allowed apprehension to become fear.

In Nokia's case, it created an environment where executives and managers were afraid to speak the truth about the current reality, and the focus remained on short-term fixes rather than long-term solutions.

A positive state of awareness and apprehension wouldn't have simply known about the potential impact of the Apple iOS and Android operating systems--which Nokia did. It would have acknowledged the shortcomings of their own operating system and taken courageous action to change.

Awareness and Apprehension Done Right

Southwest Airlines has delivered 42 consecutive years of profits in a world where many of its competitors struggle to generate 42 months of profit. One reason can be found in this statement from co-founder and former CEO Herb Kelleher: "I have predicted 11 of the last 3 recessions."

Perpetual awareness and apprehension are no guarantee that you won't make the wrong choice. But, your odds increase exponentially when your culture is proactive and engaged rather than fearful and reactive. Here are four ideas to help you master this skill for flourishing in the future:

1. Drive out fear. Fear makes you focus on your own immediate well-being at the expense of the long-term. It is the logical outcome of abusive behavior and punishing the messenger from those at the top. Invest energy to forge relationships on trust in the character, communication, and consistency of response of your leaders.

2. Scan continuously. Become a student of your business and the potential impact of the world around you. Emulate the laser scanner eyes of science fiction robots - moving from object to object in search of relevant data and information and then locking your full attention on that input until it is addressed or dismissed. Don't allow yourself to be distracted by irrelevant information or areas that should be addressed by others. Your goal is to recognize subtle changes before they have presented themselves to everyone.

3. Question critically. Don't assume that things are as they appear on the surface. Apprehension requires you to dig deeper.

The following three questions will help you think more critically about a threat or opportunity:
  • What are the best case, worst case, and most likely case scenarios for how this will play out?
  • What is the scope of the impact? Is it a major problem? Does it create a substantial opportunity? What does it mean for your long-term success?
  • What is the time frame and course of action required? What will happen if you wait for additional information? What is the course of action that will result in the fewest or most controllable unintended consequences?

4. Act with confidence. Awareness and apprehension do not ensure that every decision will be correct. Nokia, for example, could have gotten it wrong even if it took bold action. It does, however, build the commitment and support you will need to succeed. Southwest Airlines, for example, has a long history of employee engagement that provides it with the discretionary effort and confidence it takes to overcome challenges.

Uncertainty and upheaval are everywhere. It is normal to have a few butterflies about the future. A positive state of awareness and apprehension help them fly in formation.

Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit , email, or call 972.980.9857