Awareness in Charting Unknown Waters


No matter how difficult the circumstances may be, individuals, organizations and societies at large can always act to attain desirable outcomes. In this entry we review a few core aspects helpful in facing emerging situations. Professor Jared Diamond points to avoiding pitfalls like failing to anticipate a problem; failure to perceive it once it surfaces; failure to attempt to solve it after it has appeared; and failure to succeed in attempts to solve it. Let’s dive in quickly into each.

Lack of Anticipation

Three main reasons help explain the lack of foresight. First, there may be no prior experience of such nature, thus the collective memory can’t remember anything similar to what’s emerging. Second, groups can fall into reasoning by false analogy; that is, applying nonexistent similarities to events that are not alike. Third, human groups may be “collectively unconscious”, showing detachment from reality and inability to discern facts vs. fiction. In the university space, failure to anticipate is evident when despite many ostensive signs of change in the markets, societal needs and constituents’ demands, some universities persist on a “business-as-usual” behavior.

Failure to Perceive the Issue(s)

Frequently, human groups are able to detect something is happening but fail to grasp its potential threat. There is a sense of invulnerability often tied to a good record of success; even though events are noticeable, the group can’t envision being affected. Perception can also be clouded because of the subtle nature and origin of some problems; reliance on distant managers to form judgement; and slow trends concealed by up and down fluctuations. The notable example here is climate change. There is a “creeping normalcy” that brings a slow deterioration of circumstances like in the fable of the frog slowly boiled in water, one degree at a time.

Lack of Response Agility

Universities are complex organizations with intricate power structures and complex governance systems. It takes time to reach mutual agreement on what the problem is, on its possible causes, and furthermore, on its possible solutions. And the inclination toward preserving the status quo, often leads to universities not tackling the issues in a timely manner. In some cases, the lack of agility may be connected to the “veto” power of certain interest groups; in other cases, there’s reluctance to abandon practices in which the institution is heavily vested because of the “sunk cost effect”.

Failure to succeed in attempts to solve

This type of failure can be consequence of tactical mistakes--usually linked to applying the wrong set of tools; ill-timed responses; problems that are beyond current capabilities; solutions that may exist but are prohibitively expensive; and efforts that are simply too little and too late. In addition, “crowd psychology” and “group thinking” often lead to formulating solutions that don’t solve the issue.


Comprehending and avoiding these pitfalls, can help individuals and organizations be better prepared for the future. Contact us to learn more about how GRG Education can help your organization improve its effectiveness.


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