Sunday, February 28, 2010

Explorer or navigator?

During a recent trip to India for business, I was reminded of the importance of trying things that have not been tried before. We were trying to determine how a certain business problem that we had not encountered before would be solved. We brainstormed and hypothesized. We negotiated and decided (over and over again).

In the misted of our session, my Indian counterpart shared that in times like this it is important to remember the most significant discoveries happened when the person was lost. They shared a common Indian quote, “the best explorers are the worst navigators.” They referenced Christopher Columbus discovering America as a prime example. It occurred to me that the same e the same is true in our personal lives. The things you discover on vacation when you get lost are often the most interesting and memorable.

How often do you allow yourself to get lost? Does it most always work out for the better?


ken kuang said...

"The best explorers are the worst navigators" -- what a great saying! Simple, yet profound. This Thursday I am heading to DC to discuss a ceramic armor idea with DOD and DARPA. Our ceramic armor idea was very unique, because we discovered it by accident (we were lost in another totally unrelated project).

Thanks for the wonderful insight!


Thomas Donovan said...

Lots of times.
I have often allowed myself to become lost while riding my motorcycle either up in the Adirondacks, or, riding down through the Smokies, on The Blue Ridge Parkway.

Yes most always.
Seems like I would find a new and exciting road, that we would have not otherwise traveled.

As it is with business. Step into new ventures, and most certainly you end up stepping out of your comfort zone, on to new territory that you have not had to navigate in the past. And as long as you remain open to this adventure, it will provide you with new experiences and opportunities. Many of which will benefit both you and your company's performance intitally, and over the long term.

Rudy Mendoza said...

Agree that clearing of the mind (clutter) can be beneficial to problem solving. However, it should be use only as a component of the problem solving process.

A lot of people perished in the uncharted course before Columbus discovered America.

There are highly evolved and proven problem solving / decision making strategies (Six Sigma, SM14, TRIZ, Kepner Tregoe, etc.) that will give us better chance of survival.

Rudy Mendoza
Commodity Manager
Sullair Corp. (Hamilton Sunstrand)

Richard Tuthill said...

This is an excellent topic because it has a strong parallel to developing products with complex design spaces. Typical of these design spaces are a large number of significant design parameters, most of which produce, when varied, highly non-linear reponses in the objective metrics, and many of which provoke strong interactive responses when varied together.

In these situations, the "navigation" analogue, design of experiments techniques (DOE's) where a multivariate response surface is determined and then navigated to the objective, are almost useless. The number of "experimental" runs would be prohibitively large.

We are left, then, to "explore" our way through the design space using conjugate gradient-like techniques in which the solution vector is guessed at as intelligently as possible and an error residual is calculated. Using the information from the previous error residual(s), previous guesses, and whatever analytical tools we have at hand, we make a new, more intelligent guess at the solution vector. This continues until the objective is satisfied, usually in a very small number of iterations compared to using DOE methods for complex problems.

I have found that two rules are good ones to abide by in these situations:

1. Never throw away the error residual information. Always learn from it, take action based on it, and retain those conclusions somewhere easily accessible by all.

2. While you may not know the exact route, always communicate a clear vision of where you think you are going at any particular point in time. Do this often and folks will forgive your changes in direction as circumstances change, especially if they know why and you have managed their expectations. Agility should be valued; and agility is nothing more than being able to make use of new information as it becomes available as quickly as possible. But here communication is key -- and you should be communicating a clear vision early and often.

Rod Satre said...

trust in angels to givre you the guidance to find solutions. Accept their gifts and they will continue to help you.
from an engineer and MBA but living in California for over 30 years. May the force be with you has true foundation.
in other words, let yourself go, look at the information beyond your narrow myopioc world and open up to information from unusual resouces. Think "high context" when exploring issues.

the world in non-linear

Clarence Casper said...

If you don't know where you are going, any road will do.

bob schaefer said...

There are two styles of management for two phases of business - when the business is new, entrepreneurial,
and when the business is established, managerial.
Entrepreneurial embraces the new - managerial fears the new. Why is that? Basically the question - and answer revolves around rules and rules following.

Ramesh Desai said...

Our lives are books and each day is a page. We cannot erase what was already been written but we can always try to write a better ending with Gods grace. In the current world specially in India which has a dense population and still under the development mode many are such that they do not have right directions to move and hence under such circumstances they move along the road which takes them at that movement which they feel right. I agree to clarence views here.

David McKee said...

A very perceptive observation, but I would have to add something because I have realized all too often...and too late, that I could have made an excellent discovery, but because I was so focused on "Getting un-lost" that I missed something that would have been great.

I guess you need to have the ability to calm yourself and "not panic", keeping your wits about you, and finally, to keep that child-like quality of overriding curiosity. If you can do that, life's little challenges and wrong turns can become rich rewarding situations, if not...well, then it is just a PITA... :)

Karl D Madsen said...

Lost people often get devoured by the unexpected predator. When embarking on a journey of the unknown, bring weapons. Having a few different problem solving tools at one's call and employing the right one is superior to treating all problems the same. Be prepared. Be inventive. Don't be dinner.

Cynthia J. Starks said...

I like this post also -- it raises interesting questions about when we let our minds be free enough to "discover" or think new things. I am reminded of a wonderful line from a Robert Frost poem called "Direction, that speaks to what you are saying. It goes, "...and if you're lost enough to find yourself by now..."

Mario Nantel said...

To some extent, this is linked to both our own professional "DNA" as well as our persoal preferences. It is also linked to the theory of chaos where it is assumed that creativity and discovery come from being pushed into new / unpanned territories. As for me, I think I am more a navigator than an explorer as I value more flawless execution. I am not a fast walker. I always tell my colleagues that I prefer to walk straight rahter than fast and in all directions. Yet sometimes we need to challenge our paradigms and explore new avenues.

Tks for asking the question

Richard Tuthill said...

I would just like to add a couple of comments in the spirit of intellectual discussion:

1. In the type of complex and costly product design and development efforts that I was concerned with, I disagree that the route is immaterial. In this environment, the differences in route lengths and costs can be orders of magnitude large.

2. In problem solving and decision making, both Six Sigma and ACE teach DOE response surface methodology. That methodology will not work in the complex design spaces that I describe. Too many runs are needed to quantify non-linearities and interactions between the large number of parameters.

Clarence Casper said...

Good explorers should always have a good navigator with or within them. Historically explorers tended to be risk takers, not preferring the status quo. Indeed UTX still bears the names of some of these explorers, Pratt, Whitney, Hamilton, Sundstrand, Sikorsky, Carrier, Otis. Did these gentlemen have a clear vision for a path of success, or did they wend their way along the path taking advantage of good fortune and opportunity and overcoming obstacles as they proceeded? How many times did they make important decisions based on feel rather than facts?

Cynthia J. Starks said...

Clarence -- I really like your comments. So good to be reminded of the explorers who founded the wonderful businesses that make up UTC.

Thomas Donnelly said...

How often do I let myself get lost?

On my bicycle, I like planned routes. Getting lost to discover that I’m another 25 miles out at the end of a hundred is painful.

On my motorcycle, I deliberately try to get lost in order to discover new places and see things I’ve never seen before, even if it is going over old ground, but from the opposite direction. That view too can be a new discovery.

At work, as frequently as plausible.

I believe that one must empty the mind in order to discover unbridled solutions.

Does it always work out for the better?

By and large yes, and certainly not always. We have solved many complex system failures on aircraft or developed creative solutions to supply management problems using techniques such as this, along with solid TEAM members. Without a team, success is anything but guaranteed.

I am compelled to ask, How can one ever ‘discover’ if one is not lost?

If you know where you are or where are you going, how can one ever discover a discovery? By default, I suspect you already know the answers before the first foot falls on the path to exploration.

As my career work life begins to exceed 40, and my hair continues to gray, it is unfortunate to discover that the adage ‘rarely is there anything new under the sun’ bares some truth. However I must disagree with my own words and the quote too, if in fact that is a quote.

That is to say, just because nothing is new under the sun, does not automatically imply that there is nothing new to discover. This is where one can fall back to complacency and lose that wonderful childlike open-minded process of discovering something ‘new’.

When the words ‘we have already done that, or been there done that’, are spoken, I like to think
1) Generally no two things, like snowflakes, are alike, and 2) with those words, the door to discovery quickly gets slammed shut. Even if it is as simple as trying a slightly different approach, or path to discovery.

Lastly, I feel that experience is valuable and should be heeded. How many times do we need to touch the stove to realize that it is hot? However, can we tell if it is cold, just because the last time we got burned?

Suman said...

Being from a conservative background and opposite of the vikings and columbus types :) I am not a fan of getting lost
If I "plan" to explore, I would make sure i can get back to my roots; most people because of our ego will try to justify or see t epositive in out mistakes, after all once you get lost, the place is no longer new to you, its treaded territory.
As for getting lost at work, hopefully there is enough corporate money to pay for the lost cause(s)! Hope you found the best fit solution given the resources, time and money.

Tom Smolen said...

Interesting conversation. And while I see and get the point, sometimes it's important to remember you need to get where you're going "on time!"

Kanwaljit Singh said...

It depends on the enviorment and time. In layman terms in research - one can explore and in opeartions - one must navigate to get the required results/output.

Rod Satre said...

If one goes to introspective, they can fail to get to their destination. But if one only looks forward in traveling to their goal, they fail to see the out of control wreck coming from the left or right until just at the point of impact!
We must keep driving to our intended destination. The guidance is to gain a perspective of the surrounding environment so that other information can be used for our advantage as well as for future reference.
Exactly how this is done is learned and improved, always.

Have a nice trip to your destination! Get there on time but safe.

Neil Livingston said...

To John Bishop

Would you accept both Explorer and Navigator. As a former P&W employee, I was witness to many quantum leaps in gas turbine technology. I personally worked on what was known as the PW 1130 and the DEEC during the development stages at GPD, W. Palm. When I returned to Pratt for the second time, I was the RDE Manager for Large Military Gas Turbines; at a time when P&W was just getting into MRO and closing GPD. Developing repair schemes for service returned gas turbine components is very different from designing OEM parts. One of the last projects that I worked on was Lifing - - trying to reach a 2nd and 3rd interval on repairs. Considering the extreme parameters that the hot section parts are exposed too, our activities were like black art. And imagine starting my Ph.D. program fully paid for by UTC. Gentlemen, it just doesn't get any better anywhere in the world.

And although I'm not still there to see the geared fan engine undergo development, I can still feel the pride of P&W innovation and engineering excellence.

Heath Davis Havlick said...

Sometimes when you get lost, you end up in very bad places! (Hostile islands, creepy neighborhoods, etc.) But I don't want to shipwreck the otherwise good insights of your wonderful Indian saying.

Ria Hawkins said...

When we are lost, we truly find ourselves. When we are lost in the mist of flow-like situations, we find out passions. When we get lost in conversation, we find true connection to another. When we are lost in our relationships, we find ourselves head over heels in love.
I recently conducted research and found that researchers and participants who "get lost" during the interview process are likely uncovering new ground.
You are definitetly onto something! I'd love to see this covnersation get lost in it!

David McKee said...

This idea - the idea of finding great truths about ourselves and our world around us when we are most lost relates somewhat to my most recent blog post: where I was observing how the man Forrest Gump in the movie by that name, simply walked into success because it never entered his head that anything else was possible. Now while the movie takes this to an extreme, it does point to the wide-eyed nature of child-like "anything is possible" thinking. This idea of finding ourselves when we are most lost really depends on how much of this childlike nature we have within ourselves. As the wrapping paper on my birthday present that my kids got me yesterday said: "Growing older is mandatory, growing up is optional" - there is some truth to that, and always leaving some room for the child within is a very wise thing to do.

Stupid is as stupid does, but Success is, as success does too.


Rod Satre said...

"I'm not encumbered by knowledge"

Robert Schaefer said...

"I'm not encumbered by knowledge" -
This could work for you or against you depending on the problem context.
I wouldn't want you to pilot my airplane or do my brain surgery, but I might want you to look at something a new way.

Mike Ratchford said...

In 1972, a much earlier time of recession in the aerospace industry that Clarence will remember well, I was called into the engineering director's office at 4:30 on Friday, March 17 and was told that I was being layed off. I could not believe that they would lay off the best engineer in the company, but they did. Fortunately, the engineering director told me to see the service manager before I went home because he had a job for me and he wanted me back when the economy turned around. I was confused and deflated.

Following that day, I spent the next seven years of my career living and working in our customers houses. I discovered first hand what it was like to deal with our company and our product short comings. After seven years, I called the engineering director and told him that I was ready to come back. I told him that I wanted to be a program manager because I firmly believed that nobody in the company was capable of doing that job well. He had other plans and put me into a system design engineering role, a role that I thoroughly enjoyed and thrived in. Several years later, I got my wish and was drafted into a very trying program managers position. I had to learn as I went. It seems that every few years galactic forces intervened to put me into a new role that I was not formally prepared for.

Looking back on my long career in aerospace, it seems that I was pretty much always lost. This provided constant opportunities to learn, adapt and make a difference. In my second life as a consultant and small business owner, I continue to find my way along uncertain routes learning as I go. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sandeep Sharma said...

I believe that one has a natural inclination based upon the personality trait as to how much he wishes to navigate or explore. It is evident in history....that world's greatest naviagtors have not been great explorers and vice versa..this goes back to square one...back to the point where John started his discussion...But with the very little knowledge that i have so far...I have seen that the balance between the two is pivotal and ofcourse needless to gets challenged every single day in achieving this balance..Again..I agree with most of you that one certainly needs to be Jack of both..but at the same time, can be master of only one...unless extremely blessed.

Rod Satre said...

exactly, key to being inventive!

Anonymous said...

I think there is a big difference between business and privacy. Exploring in privacy is clearly an adventure which make the big difference to the job where ones cannot independent go on explorer excurses easily.

Last time I felt really lost was in privacy on hining tours with my dog in the forest and/or mountains. With him I loved to get lost. We always found new ways, new points of view and saw shy animals I'd never had seen if we had stood on the main pedestrian walkways. Sometimes we felt scary but the little fear in the stomach is "the salt in the soup".

Time for exploring within purchasing is on trade fares. Last time for me on CeBit in Hannover. I had no real visit plan and found by this an interesting challenger to a current RFQ I ran. I'm sure I wouldn't have found this provider by just going on internet investigation.

Are you visiting trade fares to get lost?

jimmy barrows said...

About 15 years a go I attended an ASQ Northeast region seminar. One of the topics discussed how to get engineering-brained types to use creativity to help solve problems. This is a summary of what we were told happened during the early days of NASA.

NASA needed things to stay closed and tight during the flight for obvious reasons. The problem was astronauts needed to get at or open the same things but with bulky stiff gloves.

The process started using a guided meditation. The moderator discussed walking through a meadow on a nice sunny day -music was playing and everyones eyes were closed. Then they were running and came to a wooded area etc.... As in formal problem solving techniques used today everyone brainstormed; going around the room emptying their thoughts.

This one guy talked about getting caught up in these pricker bushes until he couldn't move any more. Every engineer had a good laugh... and it had a profound effect on the solution and is still used today.

During the early '60's my dad worked for Ham-STD and came home with these two bags each with a closing method. I was maybe in kindergarten - he was so excited showing my mom and my brother and I how these methods would change the basic way we did simple things like buttons and zippers and shoe laces. I wondered at the seminar if we didn't witness the results of the problem solving session this man was describing.

I swear on my mom, dad, and brothers graves this is what was told during the seminar.

What product was invented? Any ideas what method closed the other bag dad brought home. It was more popular and used more often today?

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