• Chris Thierfelder

"True North" and Flying Too Low

One of the things that I have never been able to accept about the business world is the co-opting of big ideas for parochial purposes. Words and ideas have meaning and purpose and big words and big ideas should be put to use for big purposes.

I was thinking about this as I listened to the latest episode of "On Being" which featured Seth Godin talking about, well, everything. I was once at a company who used the phrase "True North" to describe what were essentially just a list of objectives and milestones. Those aren't "True North!" Those are waypoints on a map. "True North" is a massive concept. It's the larger idea or direction that guides you. But, as in most things in business, the phrase is co-opted to imbue small ideas with big meaning to prevent any of the hard questions from being asked.

In one segment, Seth talks about "True North" as a guiding principle for innovation, creativity, and exploration. When a person or a team is really following a compass with a "True North"--that is, a higher purpose for the work--then innovation is EASY and impactful. It's light, and fun, and not the simple drudgery of grinding to the next point on a map to nowhere. It MATTERS.

Taking these big ideas and grinding them down to fit on a shelf robs us of the ability to ask big questions and pursue big answers and create big meaning. Why are you doing what you're doing? But why? Keep asking yourself. Push yourself into figuring out your purpose, and then you can begin.

In a later segment, Seth says (in reference to the Icarus story): "We are flying too low. We built this universe, this technology, these connections, this society, and all we can do with is make junk? All we can do with it is put on stupid entertainment? I'm not buying it."

I'm not, either. It is too risky to think small. It is too risky to not create things with big purpose and big meaning. It is too risky to NOT have a big impact. That's what we're here for.

Stop thinking small.

Stop flying too low.

Stop compressing big ideas in to shelf-size boxes.

Start dreaming.

Start working with purpose.

Start having an impact.

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