One of the ways in which organizations and individuals can assess areas of strength, possible opportunities and blindspots is by plotting their personal and group attributes/ qualities on this graph:
An attribute/ quality is essentially a specific talent/ skill/ competence/ knowledge base.
The Y-axis measures whether an individual or group has an attribute. The question to ask is: “Do I/ we possess ABC?”
The X-axis measures whether the individual or group is aware of the attribute. The question to ask is: “Am I/ Are we aware of possessing ABC?”
But doesn’t possession also mean awareness? The answer, sadly, is no. A lot of us possess skills we are not aware of. A lot of us are also not aware of our ignorance of certain qualities. As they say: “we don’t know what we don’t know”.
Let’s look at each quadrant of this graph:
Quad 1. Strengths and Leverage
These are attributes we possess that we are firmly aware of – like a beautiful girl/ charming man, aware of the effect their beauty/ charm has on others. These attributes can be weaponized. They can be used for exponential growth and for strengthening one’s position against competition.
Apple has always been incredibly strong in this. They have used the awareness of their design chops and their appeal to the creative community masterfully in their ad campaigns over the last many decades.
LVMH has always played to its strengths across its 75+ brands/ houses. It is able to blend timelessness with modernity – almost an act of magic.
Quad 2. Hidden Treasures
One of my favourite characters from Indian mythology is Hanuman. He could shape-shift, increase/ decrease his size, fly and had limitless strength (in an emergency, not able to find a specific medicinal herb on a massive mountain, he effortlessly lifted the entire mountain and flew across to the battlefield to help revive a fallen friend).
But here’s the catch – Hanuman was cursed as a youngster to forget all his strengths. He had no awareness of his might or intelligence. The strongest weapon on the side of the heroes was not aware that he could single-handedly win the entire war. On the eve of battle, others who knew of his strengths had to remind him of who he really was.
The Hanuman problem exists across organizations and individuals. The lack of awareness is a daunting problem. But just like Hanuman, we can remember or be reminded of what we have always possessed. A fresh pair of eyes and introspection are both helpful in this regard.
Circumstances also play a big part. There are certain strengths we only become aware of when we are pushed to the brink. Slack’s genesis from Glitch definitely falls in this category. Or Shopify founders building an e-commerce storefront for their own snowboarding equipment store, failing and finally realizing that the storefront could be helpful to other businesses.
Side note: the amount of data each tech company now generates is a hidden treasure hiding in plain sight. If they can mine this data and infer insights – it could open up new growth and monetization possibilities for them.
Quad 3. Dangers
There is ignorance. And then there is the lack of awareness of the aforementioned ignorance. This is a lethal combination. Not possessing certain attributes is fine (as we will learn in the next section). But not being aware of these shortcomings can be hugely detrimental. These are blind spots that can waylay organizations and humans.
Almost all lack of product-market fit at early-stage companies can be attributed to this: they did not understand the market. They latched on to the wrong insight and built for the wrong user set. They did not have a good value proposition. They did not do their homework.
Incumbents like Blackberry losing the plot, traditional media companies struggling against Netflix – are all examples of this.
Quad 4. Opportunities
Being aware of the attributes one does not possess is a huge power. This is your personal growth roadmap. Knowing this about others/ competitors can become the single biggest strategic advantage you have as a business.
Apple does this really well. They have used their perceived (and not necessarily real) superiority in privacy against Google and other companies (especially the ecosystem play) really well. Their awareness of Google and FB’s privacy weak spot presented an opportunity.
A lack of diversity is perhaps one weakness that seems to be universal in the tech ecosystem. Everyone is aware of it. And there is ample proof that diverse teams build better products and solve problems in more innovative ways. Now that’s an opportunity waiting to be seized.
I’ve been developing the Possession – Awareness Quadrant for the last few years. While I’m still fine-tuning the framework – it was important that I share it so that others could test drive it. Consider this a call to join the open beta. Do share feedback.
And the framework has further evolved since I wrote this post. Read version 2 here!