Lost Without Context

I have long believed that context is critical to communication, understanding and leadership. If I want to understand you or your business, I need to know your context. In order to determine whether my services are the right fit and value for potential clients, I need to understand their context. In this context (yes, pun intended), I’m referring to understanding what else is going on around a person or an organization, including where a particular goal or objective fits in the entirety of the circumstance or situation. In other words, where does the particular issue, question, opportunity or challenge fit within the greater whole? What is clear for me is that without context, we are lost.

I recently had an experience that fully translates to the vital role of context. We can probably all agree that before we pursue a goal or direction, we need to know where we’re going. What we often forget, however, is that in order to get somewhere we first need to know where we are, especially relative to other things, objectives, relationships, etc. (i.e. context). This is a critical miss in problem solving, issue resolving and opportunity pursuing – you must first know where you are (and where the team or organization is) before setting off in pursuit of change. By the way, the same is equally true when pursuing personal change and shifts.

I was heading off one recent morning to be on site with a client for the day. I knew where I was going, and I decided to take a different route without using GPS. I have always had an excellent sense of direction and have even been called the “human GPS.” I don’t get lost, and I easily find my way because I pay attention to context – where I am especially relative to things around me.

I knew I was headed in the right direction (south), and I was convinced that I would be able to find the main route I was looking for. In my mind, the road I was looking for was south and to the east. I headed to the southeast, but I never found my desired route. How is that possible? Had it disappeared?

You probably already guessed the problem – the road I was looking for was to the west (not the east). I had inadvertently crossed over it and missed it. Therefore, while I knew where I was going, it was impossible for me to get there because I misunderstood the context. The same is true in your personal and professional leadership.

If you don’t have the context or your understanding of the context is inaccurate, your solution will fail or, at a minimum, be delayed in execution or implementation. Imagine me suggesting that I can help a leader grow his leadership skills, when he doesn’t yet have the technical skills needed for the position. Imagine changing your behavior in order to improve a relationship when the problem is unrelated to the behavior you’re changing. Imagine trying to solve any problem with a team, an organization or even within a community without understanding everything that’s going on around and within the situation. Imagine offering a new stove to someone who can’t afford food. Context!

There’s a wise saying about seeking first to understand, and what was left off of that wisdom is the word context. Seek first to understand another person’s context. Seek first to understand a team, group or organization’s context. Seek first to understand a community’s context. Seek first to understand a targeted group’s context (e.g. racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.).

Without context, we can’t get where we want to go. Without context our solutions are misguided. Without context, we are delayed or distracted. Without context, we cannot connect, relate, build trust, come together or work together. Without context, I am lost, you are lost, we are lost.

Speak Your Mind