Some of the earliest known maps are believed to be cave paintings in Lascaux as early as 14,500 BC, perhaps illustrating the sky, or a route to a good hunting spot. In 1963, a wall painting was discovered in Turkey, dating back to 6200 BC, which appears to be a map of the town. Maps continued to evolve through ancient Egypt, Babylonia, the Roman Empire, China, Polynesia, Ancient Greeks to Medieval Europe all the way to today’s mobile mapping technologies. The history of cartography is long, global, and expansive, with great contributions over several thousand years from many different regions of the globe. While medieval sailors used the stars and their maps to navigate and explore during the Age of Discovery, today, we have GPS in our phones, cars, boats, and airplanes to help us know where we are and how to get to where we are going. Looking at the development and evolution of mapping technology over the centuries in the context of a change in how people work, it’s another technology that mostly helps assist people in their work, but there are examples of displacement as well.
I’m reminded of some great advice by the ski filmmaker Warren Miller who I’ll paraphrase, if you find someplace cool, don’t tell anyone, because they’ll all go there and it won’t be cool anymore. And the matching Yogi Berra quote, “Oh, nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.” So, while a good map can be helpful, for example, in passing on a good hunting spot to the next generation of cave dwellers, it can also be too much information. We will look here at how maps might change the way we work, but this time, using a recent example.
“Hey Rebecca – we know you’ve been the top salesperson for this region for almost 20 years. Your knowledge of the business and the traffic flow of the area has been critical to our companies success. We just got this new GPS-based digital mapping app that overlays traffic patterns, business size and growth projections, and incorporates housing and construction forecasts along with consumer spending. This gives us an up-to-the-minute dashboard of literally everything you’ve been learning and tracking over the last 20 years. It uses data from the DOT, Bureau of Labor Statics, Government Accounting Office, Zillow and Redfin – and it’s all overlaid on a digital map. Isn’t that amazing? I know you have a flip phone, but you must get a new phone and download this app!”
It’s probably pretty easy to imagine the jaw drop look on Rebecca’s face. The earliest hunter-gatherers who knew the best spots to pick blueberries to the skier looking for his secret stash of late-day powder runs all got displaced with the data the maps provided to the layperson. But, by no means does this mean they are useless to the organization. If anything, it’s the complete opposite – they are the savviest ones on the team. They used RI (real intelligence) before there was AI (artificial intelligence) – and who better to navigate the new technology than the person who has a history. If it took 20 years for technology to catch up with Rebecca, wouldn’t she be the best to define the direction for year 21?
It’s critical that HR professionals and managers are aware of these situations and ensure that people like Rebecca are not dejected or a flight risk, but are embraced and incorporated into the future strategy.
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