Just three words is all it takes

A couple of weeks ago there was some correspondence in The Daily Telegraph about the shortcomings of postcodes. Apparently delivery drivers can struggle to find some rural houses because the postcode doesn’t follow a logical sequence or fit neatly into their round. Tell me about it! I live in a village with nearly 70 houses spread out across about half a mile and we all share one postcode, which is why I frequently find myself acting as a local guide. One driver now comes to my house for directions when he has a new address, to save time.

There is one exception, and that’s the postwoman, who has no problems with it, perhaps because it was designed for people like her. That’s the trouble with anything that is designed for one purpose and is then used for another – it frequently doesn’t work as well as people would like. But there’s no use complaining; instead, design a better product. As Ralph Waldo Emerson (is reputed to have) said, ‘If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.’
Which brings me (rather circumspectly) to the app what3words. It’s brilliant in its simplicity – the whole world is divided up into squares just 3 metres by 3 metres and then each of these squares is allocated a unique three word label. The chair I’m sitting in is in the square labelled hatter.print.valuables. If I want to direct someone to my office, or my front door or to a lovely little picnic spot where we can meet for an alfresco lunch, I just need to give them the three word label and they can use the app to find it, because nowhere else in the world corresponds to those three words.
Like all good innovations it fills a need (sometimes one we didn’t know we had, like having a phone that could also take pictures), especially in poorer countries that don’t have postcodes (or those parts of the UK where they aren’t as precise as we might like). Of course, you could give the latitude and longitude but they’re easy to forget, unlike three words. I have no idea what my latitude and longitude is but I will remember hatter.print.valuables simply by visualising the Mad Hatter sitting at a printer with diamonds coming out of it, as can anyone.
What’s that got to do with leadership and management? Because the best leaders and managers aren’t content to put up with things that work OK most of the time, they want systems and products that work excellently all of the time. They encourage their teams to look for ways to improve what they’ve already got and to find the most innovative solutions to their problems. What’s more, they don’t discourage hare-brained ideas but welcome them, because they know that it’s from the most off-the-wall ideas that the best innovations are born.
So, remember, when someone says they can’t find a place using a postcode, just give them the three words that will take them to the precise position and ask yourself, if one of your team members were to come up with an idea like that, would it be seized upon with open arms, or derided? That’s how you will know about the quality of leadership and management in your organisation.