Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Talk to Emerging Leaders: Embrace Situational Awareness

This blog is in continuation to the earlier blog I wrote about my experience in being a mentor to emerging leaders in my organization.

In my career time when i was leading large teams, i often cited the story of Brian Fitzpatrick (Google) to my teams. This case appeared in HBR a few years ago but the nuances of it are still
Take efforts to know what's
happening around you
relevant. Gist of his story- Brian joined Google as a Senior Software Engineer. Based on his interests and inclination, he became the champion for various end-user focused on initiatives. In his quest to better the end-user needs, he identified strategic gap in the organization. Precisely that gap was- Google wasn't doing good enough job in giving users better control of their personal data. He teamed-up with amicable and aligned individuals and led the project that took shape as Google Takeout that allowed users to export the captured user data from various Google Services (like Gmail, Blogger, Calendar, Chrome, Photos etc.). So much was the impact of this project that the then CEO Eric Schmidt started highlighting Takeout to regulators and customers to build a strong case for Google's non-monopolistic practices and focus on user's privacy.

There was another story that caught my attention recently. Beau Jessup, a 16 year old, went along with her Dad to China (who was on a business trip). During the trip, they met Dad's business colleague who asked Beau to suggest an English name for her daughter. Beau took that request seriously since naming a child is an important event in one's life, something that stays for rest of their lives. She asked the family various characteristics they wanted their kid to have and suggested an apt name. Upon returning, Beau did some research to figure out that there wasn't any organized business (a gap!) that helped Chinese families name their kid in English language. She found an unmet need, while all Chinese babies were given traditional Chinese names at birth, there was a growing demand to name kids in English language too. So far, she has helped name 670,000 babies.

The lesson for all of us from these stories ta that: Gap opportunities often surface unannounced and people are able to take notice of these gaps are the ones who are most aware of context and the situations. Attending exec meetings is one way, other ways to be situationally aware is to dedicate time on your calendar to decipher what is happening in your organization, and in the industry. It helps to be intentional about listening and suspend judgement when hearing the problems. What i have experienced is that having a pen and paper improves listening. The mere act of writing something down tends to open our minds to opportunities that may otherwise seem out of reach.

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