Finding your True North

The journey to success, whatever success means for you, is long and it is likely going to take time to get there. On this journey, we may get lost along the way. It is for this reason that we should establish what our True North is. True North is a key concept in Lean process improvement, and idiom that emerged from Toyota two decades ago. True North is used to describe the ideal state that a business, product or individual would like to continually strive to achieve.

In order to be guided towards our True North, we should set a clear vision. This vision should be displayed for all to see. We often talk about vision or guiding principle this as our “North Star”. If you happen to live in the northern hemisphere, the official name of the “North Star” is Polaris. This star is one degree off the position of True North, however, when following this star, will guide us in the right direction.

If however, you live in the Southern Hemisphere as I do, this “North Star” does not exist in our skies. This does not mean that we cannot find our True North. Instead, we have to be a bit more creative.

In the Southern Hemisphere, we have a constellation of stars known as the Southern Cross. This is a constellation with 4 prominent stars that form a slightly off-centre cross, with a smaller star to the bottom right of the cross, much like a beauty spot for the cross in the night sky. This Southern Cross, or “Crux”, which is the technical name to describe this constellation of stars.

This Southern Cross travels across the South Celestial pole, which is the point in space, where the Southern Cross rotates in the sky. Due to its rotation, the Southern Cross will sometimes appear to be upside down and other times, on its side, however, it remains recognisable, despite its orientation. While fairly recognisable, given that there are many stars that could potentially be in a configuration of the cross, to aid us in finding the Crux, there are two bright “pointer stars” to the left of the cross (when the cross is upright). These pointer stars line up and point towards the Southern Cross. Given the rotation of the earth, the Southern Cross remains geographically constant, and in order to find the Celestial South Pole, we have to draw an imaginary line out from the top of the Southern Cross across the bottom star, and continue that line out. We then look for the pointer stars and draw out an imaginary line perpendicular from the centre of the two pointer stars. The point in the sky where these two imaginary lines meet is the South Celestial Pole.

Another method is to estimate the distance of top star and bottom star of the Crux, multiply this distance four times out from the bottom star and that will give us an indication of where the South Celestial pole is. Face towards this point in the sky, and you’ll be facing South.

In order for us to find true north, find the celestial south pole, turn 180 degrees and this would be North.

Once we have our vision, or “True north” established, this will help us stay on course and not get pulled in other directions. Setting a clear vision helps guide us, but also shows us when we veering away from the direction we’re headed.

Real vision cannot be achieved in isolation from the idea of a purpose. Having a clear vision aligned to purpose is essential for ensuring alignment, focussing everyone on an end state goal.

The vision is in essence the aspirational description of what the company, product or project aims to achieve and sets long term direction for the team, using the power of imagination. This vision is fundamental to ensure alignment in the team.

Without a clear vision, there is a higher likelihood of increased ambiguity in the organisation. Priorities are not explicit, and focus is not directed.

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