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The path less travelled by satnav

Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

Satnavs are a wonderful invention. Almost always (eventually) getting you to where you want to go, if not always by the best route. 

They are, however, almost the definition of a moron, only doing what they are told with the information they are given. On one occasion the satnav in my wife’s car took us down what turned out to be a pedestrian street that had not yet been recorded as such on the satnav’s map. A £25 fine later, we turned around and set off in a more appropriate direction.

‘They’ try to humanise these machines with recognisably human voices, though I’m not sure I’d want to receive instructions from some of the celebrity voices on offer – I think I’d be inclined to do the opposite of what I was told.

The instructions can vary in meaning and tone too. My wife’s car is Japanese, and calculates the ‘fastest’ route not by identifying the route which will take the least time, but the one on which we can travel at the highest speed. My German car is surprisingly polite, always saying ‘please’ before issuing instructions. Even when you go in what it, or rather ‘she’, considers the wrong direction, she will courteously request you to ‘please make a U-turn as soon as practical’. When you’ve done what you’ve been asked, she’ll thank you before suggesting you ‘prepare to turn’ the left or right that she next requires.

I was thinking about the vagaries of the satnav when on a recent training run in the New Forest. (For those who don’t know the New Forest – it was set up un in the eleventh century as a ‘new’ forest and has kept the name to date.)

I was running between two villages where the main path was very straight for about two kilometres (a mile and a half) and which would certainly ensure that I fulfilled the ‘required’ training distance. However, there was also a path that wound and twisted alongside the river flowing between the villages. 

Now, regular readers will know I don’t like running much but still I decided to run down the longer and less straight path. Why? Well, my run was not Pilgrim’s Progress where you’d need to keep to the ‘straight and narrow’, and the direct route was on heavy gravel which I could feel through the soles of my shoes.  Besides, the views on the riverside route were much more picturesque. So, I made my choice for reasons other than completing the distance in the shortest possible time, which is my normal intention.

This made me think about my approach to completing projects. I am a proponent of DIN – Do It Now – and usually take the shortest route between two points, a ‘straight’ line. This change of route however, reminded me that sometimes it is more effective to take a ‘river route’, where your feet are better served for the long term and you are much happier in your work. 

To conclude, I will always at least try not to wear my straight-line blinkers when planning or delivering a project.  And I’ll probably give more consideration to the advantages of alternative methods first.  But once I’ve chosen the path, I’ll stick to it unless I come across an unforeseen obstacle in the road ahead.​