Situational Awareness

Technology can dampen your sense of situational awareness. Publisher Bob Bragdon says that can lead to danger.

I learned about situational awareness the hard way.

Years ago, I was in California on business and my rental car came with an early GPS unit. It was a neat novelty and irresistibly appealing—I was always traveling around with stacks of maps and directions to guide me to my meetings. My cohorts and I took to calling the GPS "Melissa" because of the sultry woman's voice that guided us to our destinations. (This also led to some awkward conversations when our wives could hear Melissa's voice in the background during a cell phone call.) We quickly became dependent on Melissa to guide us and stopped bringing those maps and printed directions.

On one particular trip, we entered our destination into the GPS and Melissa chirped up, reminded us to fasten our seat belts and started us on our way. We were unfamiliar with the area, so we were happy to be able to follow Melissa's confident, spoken directions with only an occasional glance at the map she displayed. But as we cruised along, we failed to notice that the scenery was changing.

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The strip malls that lined secondary highways had been replaced by burned-out buildings, liquor stores and the occasional abandoned car, and we were being eyed suspiciously by the men and women walking along the streets. We found ourselves at an intersection—Florence and Normandie in Los Angeles. Those names may not ring a bell for some of you, but I assure you they were fresh in our minds. Earlier that decade it was in that intersection that Reginald Denny had been pulled from his truck and beaten in the riots that engulfed the area in 1992.

Our faith in Melissa was shaken, to say the least. We had put our trust in a new technology without a thought that it would lead us anywhere but to our chosen destination.

Many people and businesses make this same mistake every day. We let ourselves rely on a new technology or process without making provisions for review or backup in case we're led into risky situations. We throw aside our usual cautions or suspicions and charge forward, abandoning situational awareness.

Maintaining situational awareness is a skill we all need to practice. Whether you are embracing cloud computing, hiring new employees, entering into business partnerships or using the GPS in your rental car, it's critically important that you maintain situational awareness and keep a weather eye on what you're doing, where you're going, and what risks you may be encountering so you can determine what lies ahead before it's too late to do anything about it.

We regrouped that day and moved on quickly. I always carry a backup now. Unfortunately, I just realized that my backup is the mapping app on my iPhone and that I have, again, fallen into the trap of complacency.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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