Self-Awareness? That’s for those people who sit cross legged on a cushion right?
It sounds like a nice concept. We hear these words all time and the buzz it that it ‘matters’. But what is it exactly, and why should you care? We all know the un-self aware jerk who drones on endlessly in meetings, talking over others obliviously. So maybe it makes us more likeable, but given the 137 emails that you have to answer, the strategic plan that needs reviewing and that new hire you have to decide on, what does this have to do with anything that will help in business?
Plenty it turns out.
Self awareness isn’t about navel gazing. It isn’t the same as self absorption.
We all have frames of reference that we see and interpret the world though. Some are innate, some are inherited. Babies exhibit personality traits from day one. Some are just inherently calmer, some more anxious. Some more comfortable with strangers, bright lights and loud noises, some clearly discomfited by them. You can see signs of innate risk attraction or aversion, extroversion or introversion, calm or anxiousness and many other traits all within a few months from birth (mothers often tell me its much sooner than that).
This is the operating system that comes built in. And, like all systems, it has bugs in it, but we don’t discover those until its been in use for awhile. And, it has vulnerabilities, where it’s open to attack from malicious or even well meaning programs who just butt up against it.
Then there’s the software that our parents, our culture installs. Usually these installs are partial, and given they had bugs in them too, there are plenty of corrupt files floating around.
Its through this buggy system and corrupted software that we process the world around us.
Talk about how all of these create the invisible belief set we have about the world, how that colors what we see.
External awareness is hard enough as it is. It takes a perfectly quiet mind and full attention to take in whats going on around - all of the cues. And there are so many cues that we can’t pick up on with out limited senses - bat sonar and dog’s hearing for example.
We’re already starting with limited info (maybe nature has self selected what info we’re most likely to need since it would overwhelming to process it all - maybe as we expand our ‘brain power’ through AI we’ll be able to process more sensory info about the world around us)
But the real kicker is that take that limited info that we did absorb and then try to process it through all of our internal filters, beliefs and assumptions. Its like passing an image through a series of fun house mirrors.
This can be not only extremely costly, but deadly.
Consider a few examples:
Richard Branson - debacle with Virgin Cola. Assumption made about the US market because of their beliefs and frame of reference.
In our war over seas, discussion with a mother of a Lebanese suicide bomber who is so proud of her son, and only can’t wait until her youngest son is old enough to follow in his brother’s footsteps. (She was interviewed on the news about 8-9 years ago during the war there, at a time when Canada was trying to get all it’s citizens out) But wait, isn’t maternal instinct supposed to override that. Well, if thats the assumption we make, and thats what we go in believing, and act accordingly, we make fatal assumptions.
Lack of understanding of the culture in Iraq - putting female prison guards with guns in to contain male prisoners would completely demoralize them.
Whether this is an acceptable way to try to break them down to get information is for a different piece - but its easy to see how not understanding that was a crucial slip. On the other hand, having female interrogators would completely shut them down, because they would feel superior and not feel that they needed to answer any questions.
(overheard at a NATO Conference on concept development and experimentation - discussing lessons learned. In 2003, in Calgary, 3 star general made these comments)
In the military there is a huge emphasis on situational awareness, but until we acknowledge that concept is only as useful as the humans acting on it, we’ll have find ourselves making deadly mistakes. Self awareness is the opening up of these blind spots, it’s about learning where our biases are and how they color the decisions that we make.
Josh - increase in sales - increase in half awareness helped him see his market differently and be able to respond better.
Seeing our internal blocks and filters means making better decisions in military battles, in business decisions, in investment decisions (Charlie Munger’s piece), and in every communication that have with others.
If we’re blind to our belief systems and their influence than they become minefields for us. If we are aware them, and can harness them, then they become ‘points of view’ (David Allen quote). A point of view inherently admits that it may not be right, and it may not be the only way to see things. It allows for possibility and adjustment. A belief is fixed and limited. Holding a belief inherently means that you believe its right and that contradictory beliefs must be wrong. It only looks for confirmation and throws out information that contradicts it.
Points of view are necessary, they help us filter the world around us, they guide us but also leave us open to discovery and possibility. Points of view are windows to look out of, beliefs are impenetrable walls.