Start with the end in Mind

Gwenola Michaud - GM Consulting

Written by Gwenola Michaud 


Start with the end in Mind

Gwenola Michaud - GM Consulting

Writen by Gwenola Michaud 


Start with the end in Mind - Which legacy should we prepare?

As recommended by Stephen Cover in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we should take the habit to start with the end in mind in our life and our activities. This brings the question which legacy we are preparing to the next generations.

Sometimes, a system designed a long time ago continues to prove itself a remarkable solution even in view of today’s modernization. The first major Roman road constructed runs between Rome and Naples is some 200 km long and was built three centuries B.C., from which the roman roads that came afterwards took inspiration and parts of which remain visible and usable today. What makes the Roman road system so sustainable?

Designed with one Purpose in Mind

First, it was designed with one purpose in mind: with a maximum daily travel of 30 km per day, the idea was to follow a straight line. This required not only precise land surveys to define the most direct routes, but also bold decisions in engineering, with the construction of bridges, digging of tunnels, and traversing of steep and hilly terrain.

Engineering of durable and sustainable

A second aspect was the engineering of durable and sustainable solutions. From trench digging with small retaining walls on the side of the road to the various foundation and surface stone layers, along with efficient water drainage, these roads were built to last with minimal maintenance needs.

A third characteristic was relevant and efficient signposting: stone pillars gave information regarding the nearest towns and the next and best places to stop, making the road system user friendly. Security was also reinforced to encourage travelers’ confidence in the road system. Accordingly, the solution proved worthy of expansion and scalability as seen through its extension around the Mediterranean Sea, across Europe, and even up to Britain with the installation of Fosse Way. Finally, this solution was profitable. On parts of the road system users were taxed, while collaboration between users and institutions ensured rest stops, food and shelter for travelers and horses. All in all, besides being an inspiring example of the development and deployment of sustainable solution that connected communities, resources, and was adaptable to a multitude of environments and conditions, the roman road system is an example of how the past continues to shape the present.

Example of Unfortunate Path Dependency

However, sometimes past decisions shape our present inconveniences over an enduring horizon. Let’s take our daily keyboards as an example. They were designed to be inefficient: when using typewriters, it was key not to type too fast as the spokes carrying the metal letters to the paper could get tangled. Nowadays, nothing theoretically prevents us from revisiting this initial design to adopt a better solution, adapted with today’s technology in mind. Unfortunately, from this initially inefficient design, sub-branches or alternative solutions co-exist, making the standardization of approaches even more difficult. In France, the AZERTY keyboard swaps the A&Q and Z&W keys (from the QWERTY alternative), the M key sits directly to the right of L key, and while numerals 1 to 0 live in the same place as the QWERTY keyboard, they require the shift key to activate. As an aside, I challenge anyone to correctly type their passwords on an AZERTY layout, having established them on a QWERTY board! This illustrates how difficult it can be to move away from unfortunate path dependency.

In our everyday work, we persist with technology which could be improved or replaced. From character limits for seismic volume names, to various ways to run a data processing step with 10 to 15 year-old algorithms, somewhat ironically named “Fast”, many tools and solutions could be replaced by newer ones. Yet, we face reluctance to upgrade to new and better solutions for multiple reasons: economic considerations, competing priorities, lack of know-how or resources, alongside an unwillingness to let go of any pieces of information on the off chance that they prove useful in future, no matter how inconsequential they may actually be.

Toward the Future, let's be Expert Gardeners

While we should respect past approaches, legacy tools and collected data, isn’t it equally our duty to be rigorous, diligent, and accountable for the legacy we will leave? Should we not pay attention both to the creation and updating of data, but also to the archiving and deletion side? Determining a process for retiring or even deleting irrelevant data with confidence, and decommissioning obsolete tools could better serve us moving forward, than doggedly clinging to the past with no concrete rationale or decision framework. While a complicated process, as the definition of obsolete will itself be subjective, surely we don’t want to leave (or be left with) a legacy of an ocean of insignificant data, multiple iterations of algorithms and irrelevant solutions? We would do well to become better curators of our data solutions and information management systems, capable of taking proper care of knowledge and tools with their differences and original functions, whilst being brave enough to prune – like expert gardeners – removing dead branches and noxious weeds to give space for better solutions.

Let’s keep challenging our current practices to best cultivate the landscape of the next generation of solution development and delivery.

If you are interested in applying the 7 habits of highly effective people in your projects, don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be apply to understand the problem you are facing and explore how to find solutions.

Article initially published in First Break May 2022 in WhatsUp! section.

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360° Energy and Environment Consultant

Geoscience & Monitoring Consulting (GMC) is delivering project management and digital solutions to guide innovative and technical leaders.

Gwenola Michaud - GM Consulting

Gwenola Michaud

360° Energy and Environment Consultant

20 years of expertise in managing people and projects, as well as developing, testing and delivering software solutions to improve team success and business growth.

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