The hustle and bustle of business travelers grabbing the hotel breakfast before they headed out to this meeting or that meeting barely registered in my consciousness as I mentally prepared for my fourth talk in four days. After finishing my oatmeal, I googled Top Golf, the location of my talk later that morning, and checked the drive time…nine minutes. “Still plenty of time to rehearse a couple more times before heading out”, I thought to myself. 

After rehearsing in front of the hotel room mirror (timing myself with the clock app), I checked-out on my phone (I love technology!), and headed to the parking garage to jump in the rental car. Having spent some time in the area, I had driven past the Top Golf many times. Their giant nets jutting up into the sky are hard to miss. Being unfamiliar with the highway system and traffic patterns however, I pulled up my calendar app, opened the meeting invitation and clicked on the address of the event to navigate by GPS. Still about nine minutes drive time. I fired up the podcast I’d been listening to last night when I’d arrived and headed out.

Expecting to turn left at the first traffic light, I was a little confused when Google said to go straight at the intersection. Hmmm, must be routing me around some heavy traffic. I’d gotten into trouble before when I thought I knew better the Google. In a few minutes when it directed me to merge onto the interstate heading east, it seemed odd. I knew the Top Golf was west of the hotel…or I thought I knew. Surely, Google knew how to get me there, besides, it now said six minutes to destination. I kept driving. Maybe there is more than one Top Golf in the area?

The map showed my exit approaching. Exit right, turn left and go over the Interstate, turn left again on the frontage road and I’ll be at Top Golf. I glanced to my left, expecting to see the familiar netting stanchions, but only saw blue skies above an office building. More confused than ever, I dutifully followed the route guidance. A few minutes later, I arrived at my destination. Not only wasn’t it a Top Golf, it was a residential neighborhood. I pulled into one of the side streets and stopped. 

Now What?

I googled Top Golf and it said I was 14 minutes away. What is going on? At least now my technology was telling me to drive west, which made far more sense to me than heading east. Within a few minutes I passed my hotel and several minutes after that, I saw the familiar netting of my destination.

I’d been listening to a podcast about the various ways great speakers mentally prepare themselves on the way to deliver their message. Some want silence, some want a playlist, none listed getting lost by blindly following a GPS as a way to prepare. I was thankful, I had left plenty of time to navigate here from the hotel. The thought, “must have been a bug in the interface between the Calendar app and the Maps app that took me the wrong way”, crossed my mind as I walked into the venue.

Ironically, my talk that morning was to a group of Information Technology leaders and the theme was driving your value in this amazing time of technology evolution. As way of an example, one of the questions I ask is “how many of you used your GPS to come to the event today?” As I got to that part of my talk, I had to chuckle to myself about my morning.

That afternoon, still curious about what went wrong, I discovered the issue. The address on the meeting invitation was missing the first digit of the address. It was a mere coincidence that the error resulted in the exact same nine minutes of drive time, in the opposite direction. Somehow, the fact that it was human error made me feel better about blindly following directions that I knew in my gut to be wrong.

Later, as I drove home (heading east correctly this time), I had time to think. There had to be a lesson in this experience.  A lesson beyond, “Ton you are a dumbass for relying solely on technology and not your gut instinct!”

Leaders and Followers

Leaders need followers and followers need leaders. Sometimes leaders are followers and sometimes followers are leaders. As a follower, we have the responsibility to use our brains (and our guts). We don’t just follow blindly. Verify the facts. Reach our own conclusions. If our conclusion differs from that of the leader, respectfully ask why. It is our choice to follow. If the why rings true, or the consequences of not following outweigh the discord in our guts then follow. However, when the facts don’t align, and we have asked our “why”, we know our truth, we have the right not to follow, and, in fact, become a leader ourselves.

As a leader, we have a responsibility as well. In this data driven world, we have to acknowledge data can be wrong. When our gut is telling us one thing and the data is telling us something entirely different, we must pause and ask why, we must verify the facts. If we still reach the same decision, then so be it. We will not always be right, but we will know we used the data available to us and we will know our “why”. We then have the obligation to explain our “why” to those who follow us, so that they too, understand the decision, even if they disagree with it. Those that share our belief in the “why” will follow. Those that don’t, won’t…and that’s OK.

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