Analytics as the Antidote to Strategic Fog

Ben Baran |

By Ben Baran, Ph.D. (Lt. Cmdr., U.S. Navy Reserve), Agility Analytics Practice Leader

Rule Number 3 of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Navigation Rules defines restricted visibility as “any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms, or any other similar causes.” During such instances, mariners are to follow Rule Number 19. This rule specifies, among other steps, that mariners must always be ready to change course, alter speed and assess the risk of collision with other vessels.

While serving as Officer of the Deck aboard USS Preble (DDG 88) more than a decade ago, I experienced numerous instances of restricted visibility. Most times this occurred as a result of the fog that occasionally blanketed the waters off the coast of our homeport in San Diego, Calif. And in addition to following Rule Number 19, I followed U.S. Navy regulations dictating measures such as posting special lookout stations at the bow and stern of our 509.5-foot-long warship.

Today’s world—business, economic, political, and otherwise—is one of restricted visibility.

It’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen next. Uncertainty pains us. But it’s equally, if not more vexing, to figure out what to do when the data seem to indicate numerous, plausible action steps. Looking at a problem one way seems to indicate one solution. Looking at the same problem another way seems to indicate another.

That’s ambiguity. That’s fog.

And thriving in a foggy world demands that executives lead with confidence in what they’re doing while—and this is the key—systematically checking their assumptions. Do the data still seem to indicate that we’re on the right path? Have either the internal or external conditions shifted since our original decision?

Can we admit that we need to change course?

This mindset—one of taking action while continually sensing and responding to new information—is one that requires appreciating and using systematic, logical analysis. It’s one that uses data and proven processes for better decision-making. It’s one that values analytics.

Analytics, for some, is a new term. But at its most fundamental level, analytics is an old concept. It’s the science of rational inquiry—collecting evidence, analyzing it to determine solutions, and collecting additional evidence later to see if we’ve made a difference.

In organizations experiencing either internal or external “fog,” such analytics are useful at the level of the individual leader, the team and the organization as a whole. At the very least, measuring meaningful criteria provides insight into strengths and weaknesses. But it also establishes a baseline, which allows the leader—or team or organization—to evaluate later whether conditions have changed.

But what are some meaningful criteria? What should you start measuring to perform better in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous VUCA world? You may already have good sources for data within your organization, but you can know for sure by taking a look at The Agile Model®. In particular, you could give some thought to your own capabilities by taking the short version of the Leadership Agility Profile™ (it’s completely free, and you can complete it easily online).

Regardless of whether your organization measures a little or a lot, analytics and an analytic mindset are your keys to making sense in the restricted visibility we’re all facing. And although the fog is likely here to stay, better analytics will increase your ability to sense and respond as you navigate around whatever emerges.

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