While this essay is not intended to be focused on geography or route mapping, I will start with a recent moment in a rental car to set the stage. My sweet son Bryson and I were on a trip recently to chilly Minneapolis /St. Paul to visit colleges. With the high one day forecasted to be -4 degrees Fahrenheit, I wanted to make sure that my driving directions were tight and without detours or potential issues. At one point in the afternoon, we needed to drive across “the cities,” leaving St. Paul for an afternoon appointment in NW Minneapolis. Not knowing the local area very well, I pulled up the map function on my I-Phone and entered our destination. While the route seemed simple enough, the last few miles had us exiting the highway, heading north a few miles, looping under the highway and heading back south toward our destination. At first it seemed crazy, I could see on the map a much more direct route, what the heck??? Well maybe the combination of the temps and the unknown city lead me to squelch my intuition and follow the directions on my phone. Crisply and very quickly we followed the routing commands, went north to go south, and found ourselves at our destination early for our appointment. What the mapping system “knew” that I couldn’t was that the seemingly straight route was under massive construction, highway exits closed and/or re-routed, and my “direct route” would have failed miserably. This experience got me thinking about how the dynamic of the “indirect route to success” is actually common in many moments of life.
We live in a time of supercharged, overscheduled lives and careers, where the idea of planned inefficiency seems out of place and almost unthinkable. The idea that you would intentionally NOT take the seemingly most direct route literally sounds crazy writing this paragraph. The reality is that in many facets of my life, this “truth” continues to come to life. The following are just a few examples….
Examples in Life:
As I look back on my education, it is easy to see how the “direct route” almost got me in trouble multiple times. As a boy I was convinced that I wanted to be a Lutheran Pastor. When I looked at colleges, I only reviewed religion departments, and ultimately chose an undergraduate college very much based on that single strength. It wasn’t until my junior year when I was studying in a divinity school in Edinburgh Scotland that I realized that while I was academically challenged and fascinated by the realm of Theology, I wasn’t “called” to it as a career. I came home from Scotland with a major need to find a “plan B; ” ultimately completed a BA in Economics, an MBA with a focus on Marketing, and then off to a 30+ year business career.
Examples in Business:
There are numerous examples of companies that became so focused on the “direct route” of their existing strategies; they missed the chance that some “indirect exploration” might have created. On either sides of this example, think about Xerox and Netflix. Xerox, the home of copying and copiers was also the home of the engineer who created the original “mouse” used to enhance early computing efforts in the late 1960’s. While originally applied sparingly within Xerox, uncertain how it lead to better, enhanced copier/copying experiences, “the mouse” became well known after 1984 and the introduction of the Macintosh 128k computer. A bit of “indirect exploration” might have created much more value for Xerox in that example. With today’s “House of Cards” Netflix in mind, it’s hard to remember that Netflix began as a mailer driver DVD rental model. While mailer rental DVD’s are still available Netflix is not only streaming content broadly, but now a major player in content development and production; seemingly a bit of an indirect route from the original example. The examples are numerous, but the challenge to be open and flexible enough to take “the indirect route” in business is no small thing. I will explore the drivers and barriers to “the indirect route in business” in an essay in the near future.
Examples in Careers:
It is so easy and tempting to think about mapping your career “ladder,” taking roles that lead one after the other always upward climbing the proverbial “corporate ladder.” I learned this lesson from a good friend and I have now described it to others as following “Irma’s Rule.” Irma is a good friend and one of the brightest marketers from across my career. I had the fortune to have her join my team in a key role in which she flourished. As her time passed, instead of looking for the obvious advancement opportunity, she looked for and secured a lateral assignment where she could expand and build her skills. This “indirect route” seemed not only counterintuitive, it WAS counter cultural and very unusual. I dug into the situation and realized that she had a number of lateral moves under her belt and a big part of her success was the breadth of her experiences combined with the depth of her capabilities. This “indirect career route” served Irma well, propelling her to significant career growth over time, built on a foundation of a breadth of career experiences… “Irma’s Rule.”
As I mentioned above, this essay is not meant as a primer to “Google Maps,” or any other mapping app. I have mentioned this idea obliquely in earlier essays, “Ode to a Shunpiker,” and “Longlook Gardens.” I am convinced that we need to find ways to take the less direct approach, the “indirect route” personally and professionally; as a way to help us gain perspective on life/business and ultimately to achieve greater results, success and happiness.