I recently finished reading Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, by Ed Catmull, the guy who runs Pixar and Disney Animation. It's a solid book full of interesting anecdotes about how Pixar was run, with some lessons that are probably applicable to various types of businesses. Yeah, the title is a little flowery, but the summary is that he believes that much of his success has come by trying to identify the things that are hard to see. He says that you get there in part by exercising candor, self-awareness and an ability to move beyond fear. That's a pretty tall order to fill for any one individual, let alone an organization. I'm pretty good at self-awareness, and sometimes candor, but there are times that fear gets in the way. Organizations are often not good at any of those things, especially the self-awareness.
The book resonated with me, because I think that seeing the things that are hard to see has been a critical part of my own professional success. When I'm guiding a group of people, whether it be a software development group or a volleyball team, I'm always looking for the things that will get in the way, and do my best to prevent the roadblocks. But I'm here to say that I'm not Ed Catmull, and I have to almost continually remind myself to look for the roadblocks.
I do like the idea that self-awareness is a central key to this special flavor of vision. Self-awareness can serve you well in almost every way, professionally, socially and in maintenance of your own well-being. I'm not even suggesting that you need to process or react to anything that you're self-aware about, it just acts as the basis for deeper understanding about your motivations. When you understand what motivates you, it's easier to follow the trail and change things. I don't see this as running from things you don't like or aren't good at, necessarily, but often it's a chance to run toward the things that you're good at and make you happy.
Institutional self-awareness is harder, because there are a lot of disincentives to have it. Candor can be perceived as criticism, which people don't like to receive. Suggesting change can cause fear. It takes a lot of leadership ability to sell the idea that self-awareness is not the precursor to negative criticism, but rather the mechanism that allows for course correction and success. Who doesn't want success? It's all in how you sell it.