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.

The Six Million Dollar Man | Die Man van Staal

In a fast pace and ever-changing world, digital transformation is a reality that individuals and companies must embrace. More and more, people and businesses need leverage these digital technologies to become bionic. This notion of being bionic is key to embracing uncertainty. What does it mean to be bionic? In the 80s, there was a science fiction television series The Six Million Dollar Man.  The opening scene starts with an old green screen computer terminal, with the word

CY’ BORG_                                _

being typed out letter for letter. The text then proceeds to display on the screen:


HUMAN PARTS HAVE HAD TO BE               _

REPLACED TO ONE EXTENT OR                 _

ANOTHER BY MACHINES THAT                  _


The series is about Steve Auston, a former astronaut and United States Air Force Colonel, who was severely injured in an aircraft test. He is then taken to a lab and undergoes surgery to “rebuild” parts of his body, including his right arm, left eye, and both his legs using technology. These “Bionic implants”, enhance his strength, speed and vision beyond human norms.  His eyes allow for a 20:1 zoom vision, and his limbs allow for super strength and speed.

These technologies do not replace his human capabilities, but instead, augmented his capabilities, to allow him to perform with more speed, strength and accuracy.

Similarly, businesses today need to become more bionic, leveraging new technologies to augment humans in achieving better results. Companies need to leverage data and technology to improve insights, move at speed and scale, and drive improved customer centricity.

While Steve Austin’s bionic implants cost six million dollars in 1973, this equates to approximately, 36 million dollars in 2019, the cost of technology, through Moores law has become exponentially cheaper. The law developed by Gordon E. Moore, in 1965 is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles about every two years. The observation also considered that, as you increase the number of transistors on a circuit, the costs start to decrease at the same time, which means that you have the doubling of price/computing performance.

Which is more Bionic?

The illustration below considers how business should be considering leveraging technology. If I was to pose the question to you, “Which is more bionic?” the robot, which is a mechanical and command driven device or the human leveraging technology to make her stronger, faster and who can leverage data and technology for better insights. I would like to think that being bionic is being human, augmented by technology.

While we consider technology from a digital perspective, this is not always the case. We need to think about how we apply this to all technologies and innovations. Wilbur Wright, the bike mechanic and his brother Orville Wright were aviation pioneers and innovators of heavier-than-air-flight at the turn of the century. When history was made at Kitty Hawk, Wilbur Wright mustered all his strength and mental capacity to thrust the gliding machine to flight, it was man with machine, and not man against machine. In Satya Nadella’s book, “hit refresh”, he suggests that we don’t think of aviation as “artificial flight”, it is simply flight. In the same way, we shouldn’t think of technological intelligence as artificial, but rather as intelligence that serves to augment human capabilities and capacities.