Sizing Up Situations Is A Skill, We Need To Develop

"The importance of recognizing the underlying factors and influences in play cannot be overstated. Imagine, for example, the advantages of recognizing the significance of the element of surprise as a condition of success for the Branch Davidian raid or the futility of a surround and call-out at Columbine. Clearly, some understanding of the nature of what is occurring is of great advantage." ~Sid Heal

I was just reading through the recent issue of the NTOA publication, The Tactical Edge and came upon a article by Sid Heal tilted “Sizing Up” Sid Heal describes the ability to ‘size up’ a situation as one of the most valuable traits of an incident commander. I completely agree. “Size up, refers to the process of critically evaluating an unfolding situation to estimate priorities, identify hazards and determine an appropriate course of action.”

The success of officers on the street or leaders overseeing operations often centers on our ability to read situations as they are unfolding in real time. Carl von Clausewitz called it Coup D’oeil, the art of forming notions. Col John Boyd used the German tern, fingerspitzengefühl meaning, fingertip feel or intuitive flair or instinct. As you can imagine our ability to size up situations, observe, orient, decide and act in an effort to exploit weakness in an adversary, while improving our ability to maneuver, and position, resources and, set up future tactical options is paramount to successful outcomes.

Sid Heal states, “Typically a size up occurs in the earliest stages of a response and is critical for success. Interventions are far more successful if promptly implemented, and the first hour is often the most critical. It is, after all, easier to stop a trickle than a torrent and a flame than an inferno.” This timeframe is often referred to as the “golden hour” and is defined as the chaotic stage of an incident in which the crisis is still fluid, meaningful information is difficult to obtain and situational awareness seemingly impossible to establish. In this initial period, it is difficult to determine how to set multiple people, groups and agencies on a path towards resolution. Yet, setting the path to resolution is exactly what we need to do.

“Despite sincere efforts at defining procedures and methods, size ups defy standardization. Rules, procedures, checklists and algorithms are useful only when developed from experience with previous incidents and accompanied with consistent expectations. They fail miserable when a new situation is nontraditional. “~Sid Heal

Sizing up situations is a skill, we need to develop and although most people can get better at it, some are going to get a lot better. It’s a strange kind of skill, for sensing what is going on among groups of people in conflict or crisis and then influencing what happens. How do we get better at it? The answer lies in creating and nurturing our abilities in “Operational Art” (taking what you know and being able to apply it) to a given set of circumstances that affect the outcome you seek.

To do this takes effort. It takes an individual who possess the explorer mentality. It takes an individual willing to develop his awareness and senses. It takes an individual who has the discipline to persevere and adapt to changing conditions. Personal Mastery, learning to expand our personal capacity to create the outcomes we most desire, through skill development. Strength of character is another crucial attribute in being able to size up situations as it allows us to focus our efforts on the task at hand, mission and intent.

You cannot learn to size up situations by sitting in some training class listening to an instructor give you a checklist formula on how to do it. No! To create and nurture this ability you must train, train, train, learn from experience and previous incidents, trust your gut and do it!

If you want to learn more about how to develop your ability to Size Up, pick up Napoleons Glance, Strategic Intuition both by William Duggan. Also Gavin De Becker's Gift of Fear and Patrick Van Horne's fantastic newly released book, Left of Bang.

Lets not forget Sid Heals books Field Command and Sound Doctrine to develop a better understanding of Tactics.

Stay Oriented

Fred