Piercing the Mist: Five Ways to Overcome the “Fog of War” at Work

“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence.” – Bernard Beckett, New Zealand author.

Writers often compare business to a competition, or to war itself, the ultimate competition. I’ve done it myself many times, for good reason. In business as in war, you’re competing with others for limited resources. If you’re able to secure those resources long-term, you can thrive. Business is less rough on its contestants and civilians than war, but it can be just as ruthless in its way. Carving out a market share and then holding it against all comers isn’t easy. It requires constant work and a steady resolve, so it’s no wonder so many military terms have drifted into the business vernacular.

One term that hasn’t been overused, unlike some, is “Fog of War.” The term was coined in 1873 by Claus von Clausewitz, and warriors the world over immediately realized its brilliance. Even in today’s modern electronic warfare, the uncertainty of situational awareness limits the warrior’s ability to plan in advance. You can’t see everything on the board at once: not all the troops, not the entire lay of the land, nor the opponent’s gambit; and often night or weather, including actual fog, limits an army’s ability to execute, much less plan.

The same is true in business, where it’s not always possible to know what the competition or your leaders have in mind. Despite a clearer view than ever before, white-collar workers still suffer from the Fog of War—not least within their own organizations. Try these techniques to pierce the mist:

  1. Strive for transparency. Transparency within the organization allows you to more easily see the value of your work and how it helps move everyone forward. But it also gives you a high-level, forward-thinking view of where everyone is going, so in some ways, you can see over the fog. This is crucial to productivity, not least because it’s based on trust. Team members and teams must trust that everyone’s going in the same direction, based on best knowledge of the business environment. Typically, there’s no need for compartmentalization, unless you’re military or part of an agent-of-change type of organization like Apple or Microsoft. Even then, a good-faith effort to remain personally transparent, and to ask your own leaders to be as transparent as they can, helps everyone.

  2. Maintain up-to-date training and equipment. The better prepared you are, the farther you can see through the fog. If something emerges, you’re much more likely to handle it effectively if you’ve trained for just about everything you can expect, you get regular updates, and your knowledge and equipment help you reframe whatever problems you encounter into solvable challenges.

  3. Act decisively and focus on outcomes. Even when you lack all the information, make the best possible decisions based on what you know, and don’t waffle. It’s easier to shed the uncertainty inherent in decision-making if you focus on your desired outcomes and shoot for them.  You may suffer failures on the way, but don’t fixate upon them. Use failures as teaching moments, not as hindrances to further productivity. Keep moving toward the outcomes you want most.

  4. Study the business landscape and climate. Keep up with your competitors’ actions, noting not just what they do right—so you can emulate it—but what they do wrong, so you can avoid it. Careful examination of the landscape can also help you recognize what’s coming over the horizon—from new technology to new legislation— so you can take advantage of or avoid it.

  5. Don’t wait for the leader to tell you what to do. You might think you should leave piercing the Fog of War to your leaders, but anyone can contribute. Case in point: In September 1862, upon occupying a Maryland meadow Confederate troops had recently used as a campground, two NCOs of the 27th Indiana regiment discovered a copy of Confederate battle plans for the region. It swiftly made it up the chain of command to General George McClellan, who responded sluggishly. The Battle of Antietam followed: the bloodiest day of the American Civil War, with 23,000 casualties. Strategically a Union victory, it proved tactically inconclusive. Imagine what might have happened if McClellan had struck quickly when he had a clear tunnel through the literal Fog of War! The war might have ended years earlier, with tens of thousands of American lives saved.

Who knows how you and your organization may profit, if you take the steps necessary to pierce the Fog of War for the benefit of everyone you work with.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland