Graphic with the words of Art of Managing and other management termsThe next time you get to the end of the roll of paper towels, instead of immediately throwing the cardboard tube into the recycling bin,  channel your inner kid and put it up to your eye and use it as an imaginary telescope. Admit it, you did it. We all did. Wrapping paper tubes were reserved exclusively for sword-fights with annoying siblings, and the paper-towel tubes made excellent telescopes for spying on these same characters.

The view through the cardboard tube is analogous to how many of us view our firms, careers and industries. 

Too often, we’re laser focused on the object in front of us; the next project, the next quarter or our annoying competitor, and our field-of-view is severely constricted. We fail to see the bigger picture until something from outside our narrow view of the world runs us over. It might be that disruptive competitor we scoffed at or the new technology that we never thought would stick. These unseen and unanticipated changes disrupt our firms and derail our careers with remarkable indifference.

I see and hear the result of this monocular vision in my work all of the time. As a strategy consultant, I engage with clients who spend way too much time looking through the paper towel tube. As a coach, I’m frequently approached by individuals who woke up one day to find out that everything they had been educated and trained for and were accustomed to doing no longer applied. These are more than sobering moments. For many, they are horrifying.

Standing still in this era with our firms, our strategies or in our own careers guarantees that you are moving backwards at the speed of change. While none of us on our own can stop the force of change, we can all do a better job scanning for trigger events and anticipating how these events might impact our firms, our industries and our jobs. The first step in this process is expanding your field of view (FOV).

8 Ideas to Help You Expand Your Field of View:

1. Make external scanning part of your normal operating routine. It’s essential to get more people on your team regularly looking for and talking about the world beyond your industry and customers. Encourage the team to look far and wide at new developments in other industries and geographies. Focus on identifying potential trigger events that have the potential to ripple through industries. As a starter exercise, spend time with your team mapping the potential ripple effects from autonomous automobiles across our society and even industries far removed from the traditional automobile ecosystem. 

2. Jump-start scanning by assigning teams to visit events in unrelated industries. Visit conferences and trade-shows in unrelated markets and look for the latest developments, innovative new technologies or emerging business models.

3. Consider using “association” techniques to stimulate investigation and idea development. Two idea prompters: “How would the Ritz Carlton reinvent our customer service approach?” Or, “How would Amazon use our data to improve our marketing?” Observing how innovative firms and market leaders in other segments execute their business can serve as a source of ideas for your business. Your goal isn’t to mimic those firms, but to identify approaches that you may be able to adapt to your audiences and that differentiate from competitors. Starter Approach: send cross-functional team out to observe the operations of these innovative firms and have them report back on their findings and ideas. 

4. Create a space to curate observations and foster idea generation. I’m a fan of curating content in a physical space. It might be a room filled with whiteboards or offering ample open-space for flip-charts. A physical location allows people to wander in and out and consider ideas and observations and add their own thoughts to the evolving discussions. If your team is dispersed geographically, place someone in charge of refreshing digital images or operating a virtual whiteboard.

5. Check your instinct to prognosticate too early in the process. While we all like to think we’re analysts able to assign probabilities to potential outcomes, focus initial efforts on discussions, not mathematics. Discussion prompters include: 

  • “If this materializes in our space, what will it look like?  
  • How will this impact our customers? 
  • How might we leverage this trend? 
  • How might we protect our business against this?
  • How do we get out ahead of it before competitors?

6. Cull the herd. Over time, winnow the events down to those the team selects as most likely to impact your space and firm. Shift the dialog to, “How do we defend against or leverage this?”

7. Create the mechanism to turn insights and ideas into actions. Create intelligent experiments out of the insights gained from scanning. Whether it’s scenario analysis, exploration of potential partnerships or acquisitions, or early stage research and development, the work of scanning must eventually move beyond conversation.

8. Keep refining and improving your processes. I’ve offered just a few of many possible approaches to external scanning. Strive to get more people involved. Allocate more time for discussions. Consider involving customers and partners in the “What if?” scenarios and draw upon their ideas. Don’t let this process stall or atrophy or, you will revert to your tube-like view of the world.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

None of us can afford to focus solely on the view from our conference room window. Other than the color of the grass or leaves on the trees, the view never changes. Work hard as a professional and as a member of your firm to find ways to expand your field of view. While you might not be able to alter the course of that storm bearing down on you, the advance notice will allow you to sidestep or leverage it. Both are better than being blindsided and crushed.

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Art Petty serves senior executives and management teams as a performance coach and strategy facilitator. Art is a popular keynote speaker focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.