It's Hard to Admit, but Sometimes You Have to Stop and Ask for Directions

Posted by Ken Stearn on Apr 11, 2016 6:30:00 AM

Recently, I was travelling. I was away from my neighbourhood and whilst I was in an area that was somewhat familiar to me, it wasn’t somewhere that I knew intimately. I started thinking about how before Satnavs came along, everyone would carry maps in their cars. This would usually allow drivers to navigate from one big conurbation to another, but that last few miles were always a challenge.

Investment document automation like driving on brittish roundabout These days we tap the street address or postal code into the Satnav, or more likely Google Maps on our phones, and we’re presented with turn-by-turn instructions on how to arrive at our destination. Occasionally we end up going down a cul-de-sac, or the GPS gets a bit confused, and we end up the wrong side of dual carriageway with no way across because the bridge that used to be there isn't there anymore. Not perfect then, but largely speaking, though, a pretty good way of navigating that last mile or so to your destination in an area where you’re not familiar with the streets. Of course, often I think I know better than the Satnav, so it’s sometimes ignored.

Before this technology became available, we’d normally have to depend upon getting near our intended destination and then, horror of horrors, stop and ask for directions. To a man, this was almost an admission of defeat. And, as a man, I would do almost anything to avoid asking for directions. I would happily drive around aimlessly for tens of minutes before I’d finally admit that I needed help. Once I’d finally, painfully, accepted that I needed help, another male trait would hove into view. Usually, I would pull over and ask a local resident or perhaps stop and ask a shopkeeper for directions. So far, so good. At that point, the helpful local resident would begin to give me detailed instructions on how to find the address I was looking for.

Very helpful, almost as good as a Satnav. Until of course, I factor in that I, being the man that I am, stopped listening immediately as I heard the words, “Go down this road to the traffic lights and turn left.” After that whilst outwardly I was nodding and saying, “OK, got that, thanks.” But, inside my head, the Girl from Ipanema was playing. Eventually, though, after going through this several times, with someone after I’ve turned right at the traffic lights and with someone else when I’ve gone round the roundabout and taken the second left, I’d arrive at my destination. It worked. I got there.

Some parallels can be drawn from these observations with the way that change happens in organisations. Procedures and methodologies that stretch back many years have become established. They’ve lasted that long because they work. They’ve been tempered in the crucible of real-world challenges and have been adapted and modified to overcome their shortcomings. Whilst, there are always roadblocks that can occur in the process, providing you don’t deviate from the route mapped out, you’ll eventually get there.

Change is painful. Everyone knows this to be true. Understanding that a change of direction may be required to enable you to get to your destination quicker opens up the risk that you might have to ask someone for directions. This is always a difficult thing personally and equally difficult in an organisation. The temptation is to stick with what you know. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

Some changes, however, are worth the pain and effort. After all, now I’ve got the Satnav, I don’t have to ask anyone for directions anymore. It takes me door-to-door, including that difficult last mile and, as added value, it helps me plan a route around roadblocks, which allows me to arrive at my destination sooner.

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