Without Geography you’re Nowhere. There’s no escaping it, it’s all around us, whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not. As individuals, it touches our friends & families; as workers, it touches our organisations & businesses; as citizens, it touches our cities & communities; and as human beings, it touches our whole planet.
Within the world of business, my experience of working closely with public and private sector organisations is that location, place and geography is fast becoming an accepted technology & information platform that helps decision makers make better more informed business decisions. However, while this general acceptance is clear; there is still evidence of a lethargy that exists within our stakeholder community that, for me, creates a vacuum of geospatial leadership at a high level, sometimes resulting in a slowness to act, and, possibly worst of all, a reticence to share, co-ordinate & collaborate for the greater good of business, government and society in general.
This is what I refer to as the Geospatial Game.
I’ve been playing this game for nearly 30 years now, ever since graduating as a 21-year-old Geo Surveyor from DIT Bolton Street (now TU Dublin). Twenty four of those years I have spent with my current employer. The Geospatial Game is a game I never tire of playing, because for me, it’s a game that, I have come to realise, is not to be ‘won’ or ‘lost’; it is to be continuously played.
“My motivation comes from playing the game I love” … Lionel Messi
As I’ve played this game here in Ireland, I’ve seen geospatial businesses come and go. I’ve witnessed geospatial companies having to augment their offerings with non-geospatial services in order to differentiate themselves and sustain their businesses. Many times have I seen organisations, initially, dismiss our ‘geospatial’ message, only to return a number of years later and embrace it. I’ve seen System Integrator’s cease providing geospatial-related services in order to focus on their particular strengths and do what they are actually good at. I’ve seen start-ups being funded to invent geospatial technology that already exists, only for them to realise that the technology they are inventing, in fact, already exists.
I’ve seen the clamour & commotion of ‘open source’ become calm & ordered in the stability and certainty of the ‘open platform’ world that is now fast becoming the norm. I’ve seen the, one-time noisy, ‘geospatial is mainstream’ brigade, suddenly go quiet in the realisation that geospatial thinking and reasoning is nowhere near as mainstream as they would have liked to believe. In a similar vein, I’ve seen the ‘spatial is nothing special’ narrative slowly dissipate as it grappled with the fact that geospatial knowledge is a specialised skill and domain expertise that is only increasing in demand.
And as I reflected on all the things that have come and gone over the course of my career to date, I began to wonder why is it that we are still here playing the Geospatial Game? Why is it that I am still here, putting skin in this game every day? Why is it that our business continues to grow significantly year on year? Why is it that our industry is thriving right now?
Why is this, when, in that same time, our message hasn’t changed, our vision hasn’t changed, our values haven’t changed, our purpose hasn’t changed. How we do what we do, and why we do it, hasn’t changed. In other words, our business hasn’t needed to change in order to continue to grow, continue to develop, continue to learn and, most of all, continue to be successful.
Could the answer be in the way we play the game?
Business is a Game, isn’t it?
At the time of writing, Google returned approximately 6,000,000,000 results for the term ‘Business is a game’. There have been many related quotes from business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors over the years.
“Think of business as a good game. Lots of competition with minimum rules. You keep score with money”… Bill Gates
Jack Welch has said, “Business is a game, and as with all games, the team that puts the best people on the field and gets them playing together wins. It’s that simple.”
“Business is a sport and I want to win” … Mark Cuban (an American entrepreneur & investor)
Stephanie Hinds (a top 50 most influential women in accounting) has been quoted, “Business is a game & the best team wins”.
However, the problem with considering business as a game is that nearly all games are finite; they have a defined start, a defined end and a set of rules in between, the purpose of which is to compete against each other until there is either a winner or a loser.
The desire to dominate is the primary attribute of finite players everywhere. Finite players aim to win in order to gain control over others. They flaunt their titles and exhibit their power and superiority. They are in the business to conquer, disrupt and crush their competitors. In business, this forces leaders to think in ‘finite’ terms, bound by time, ego and the expectations of their shareholders. The purpose of which becomes an unrelenting focus on profit, market share & share price. Although, I did propose otherwise in my article from last month.
Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end. But infinite games are more mysterious … James Carse (Author)
Where a finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing to play. Infinite games are not bound by any external or internal constraints. Their object is not ‘winning’ but rather to ensure the ‘game continues’. The rules may change, the boundaries may change, even the players may change, as long as the game is never allowed to come to an end. Anyone can participate in this game, anytime, anywhere.
The infinite player is not concerned with beating others, because to them, only the game matters. As a result, infinite players aren’t fixated on a particular outcome or result. They are not fixated on the competition.
“Never hate your enemies, it affects your judgement”... Michael Corleone (The Godfather III)
Instead, the infinite player seeks to coexist, they develop their industry for the greater good of all players and they work to make the game bigger for everyone. Their objective is to continue to play the game and are therefore open to new approaches.
Winning & Losing
The fact is, if we regard business as a game, then surely it must be an infinite game. In which case, as a player, you have to be emotionally detached from ‘winning’ and ‘losing’. I fully accept and embrace the fact that ‘winning’ and ‘losing‘ is part of the game we all play in business, but equally, I believe that neither are a means to an end. ‘Winning’ is short term, it’s in the moment, it’s transient. The same can be said for ‘losing’.
In my mind, we succeed (as opposed to winning) because we do the right things. We learn (as opposed to losing) because we make mistakes. It’s that simple. And I am a firm believer that if we are not making mistakes then we are not learning.
“An organisations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”.… Jack Welch
Even when we succeed, I am curious as to why. Not so as to be able to pat ourselves on the back and reinforce how great we are. But, so as to better understand why someone else lost, so that we can then reinforce the kind of behaviour that underpins success. Why you win tells you a lot about why someone else lost, and the reverse is also true.
Also, in the context of business, in the ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ of something, one needs to be mindful of what it is you think you have won or lost. What does ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ actually mean in the greater scheme of things? For example, it is a well-known narrative that the US military won every major battle against their enemy in the Vietnam war. Yet, that fact, if indeed true, is totally irrelevant, given that they lost the war. For clarity, I am not at all trying to equate the business of business with the business of warfare. For sure, like warfare, business is about strategies, objectives and tactics. It’s about leading, managing and doing. It’s about planning, developing, and executing. It’s also about strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. But it’s not about warfare. Nobody gets killed. Big difference.
And while winning and losing is part of the bigger game we play; for me, it’s the bigger game that is far more important and purposeful than winning. For me, business is simply about staying in business, and therefore the game to be played is one within which we must play to keep playing, it is one that is infinite. In this game anyone can participate, the goals are not fixed, and the rules are unknown and shifting. This must be the ‘excitement’ that Max Aitken (aka Lord Beaverbrook, newspaper publisher & politician) referred to in his quote, “Business is more exciting than any game”; or indeed, it may be the ‘mystery’ that James Carse refers to in his quote above.
Also Read: Unraveled! The H3 Geospatial Indexing System
Playing to Keep Playing
Thankfully our business is a successful business. It is a business that has ‘won’ and ‘lost’ along its way. However, in both the winning and the losing, it is still a business that I believe does the right things, for the right reasons and does them well. It is a business, notwithstanding its wins and losses, that still learns, still develops and still continues to grow.
I believe, we do this by being humble in our successes, but not so far as to be meek; by being knowledgeable about our subject, but not so far as to be arrogant; by focusing on the success of our customers, but not so far as to put our own business at risk; by demonstrating thought leadership in our market, but not so far as to be egotistical; by being passionate about what we do, but not so far as to be overbearing; by being confident in how we do it, but not so far as to be over-confident; and, by having a deep rooted sense of purpose, but not to the detriment of our values.
My mission is to help people understand the social, economic and environmental benefits of geographic information, in a way that positively impacts the lives of employees, customers and stakeholders and that contributes to the greater good of society in general. This is not something that can be won or lost. It is something that needs to be consistently reinforced.
My purpose is to make people’s lives better by helping those who can effect change to better understand the impact and influence of location, place & geography on both the business & political decisions that affect society. This is not something that can be won or lost. It is something that needs to be continuously played.
My role at Esri Ireland is to create and continuously improve organisational capability in a way that will sustain long term success for our employees, our customers, stakeholders and the communities we serve. This is not something that can be won or lost. It is something that needs to be constantly evolved.
The Geospatial Game I play, is not about winning or losing; it’s not about being #1; it’s not about crushing your competition; it’s not about having the greatest products or the best people; it’s not about who has the best features and functions; it’s not about who earns the most revenue or employs the most people.
The Geospatial Game I play, a game that I participate in for the pure love of what we do, how we do it and why we do it, is fundamentally a game that is about playing to keep playing.
And maybe, as I reflect deeper, the real reason I continue to play the geospatial game is encapsulated in the quote from Barry Gordy of Motown Records …
“Our business is built on love and competition and sometimes the competition gets in the way of the love, but the love will always win out.”