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Navigating through the challenges of 2012 Published: Sunday, January 8, 2012 8:00 am By: Ulises Pabón, Chief Operations Officer

I used to be great at finding my way in a strange city, assisted with nothing more than a cheap rental-car map.  My sense of direction was superb.  Granted, looking at a map while driving isn’t the safest thing to do.  I had my share of close calls.  But you could drop me at any intersection of a city and as soon as I figured out where I was on the map, I could go anywhere.

Why am I speaking in past tense?  Today’s GPS has changed all that.  In short, I’ve gotten lazy. 

It amuses me that I worked with GPS technology way before it entered into our everyday life, never to suspect it would become a debilitating crutch to my sense of direction.   I graduated from electronics engineering in 1979 and went to work as Design Engineer at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas, Texas.  Needless to say, in a matter of weeks I knew my way around the Dallas/Fort Worth vicinity.   Although TI was known, in the late 70’s, by all science and engineering graduates for their electronic components and scientific calculators (challenged only by Hewlett Packard with their HP 35 and HP 45 models), I promptly discovered that TI’s product portfolio spanned from metal alloys, to radar systems, to electronic toys, to military technology.

I ended up working in the Equipment Group – a non-descriptive name for the division that researched, designed and developed technology for the Department of Defense (DOD).  Once I was granted DOD Secret Clearance, I was commissioned to work on radar, digital signal processing, and image recognition applications; hence, my initial encounter with the Global Positioning System (GPS) network of satellitesorbiting the globe.  Being able to pinpoint a set of coordinates with great accuracy anyplace on the planet was a magnificent capability back then.  Little did I know that over three decades later, I’d be blindly following directions from a portable GPS with no idea of my whereabouts.

Without doubt, I now drive a lot safer and I rarely get lost; but I sometimes wonder if it’s worth the price.And so, the quintessential question comes to mind: Is technology a blessing or a curse?

As with all things in life, it depends.  It’s one thing to be rushing through traffic in an unknown city, trying to arrive on-time to an important business appointment; it’s another to be on vacation, exploring the back roads of an unfamiliar town, being led by the joy of discovery and the rewards of serendipity – two different settings; two different mindsets.  The former setting strives for order and certainty, the latter embraces openness and chaos.

In business, we spend too much time longing for order and certainty.  As important as certainty is in getting us to work, the challenges and demands of today’s workday are too complex to be solved with simple “turn left” or “turn right” answers.  Discovering unmet needs, creating rich customer experiences, and solving complex problems all require that we turn off our automatic GPS-likeleft-right decision making mindsets and adopt an open minded framework.

If you are a marketer, you need to accept that you no longer have total control over your message.  Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have complicated your existence; or let’s say they’ve made your life interesting.  If you’re a retailer, you have to stop thinking “product” and start thinking “experience” – a much more complex value proposition.  If you’re going digital, you need to face the fact that consumer power increases exponentially in the digital world.  Finally, if you’re into research, you have to shift from exclusiveness to inclusiveness and realize that open innovation will challenge your current notion of intellectual property and control.  In a world where influence is replacing authority, the best way to gain influence is by giving up control.

For sure, in the heat of execution, there will always be a need for quick and accurate decision making.  There will always be a fair supply of simple single-answer problems.  Easy come, easy go.  However, when faced with complex open-ended challenges, the terrain turns from black and white, to gray.  Creativity and discovery demand tolerance with ambiguity.  Uncertainty needs to be welcomed rather than dealt with. 

Don’t throw away your GPS.  However, make sure you understand what context you’re operating under.  When faced with complex challenges and ill-defined problems that call for curiosity and inquisitiveness, my advice is that you unplug it or turn it off.  Otherwise, you may find yourself endlessly recalculating, recalculating, recalculating …

Copyright 2012 QBS, Inc.
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