The Creator, The Advisor and the Navigator

Adam Bahret
Adam Bahret

Every team championship won or Olympic medal received is the product of a “Creator,” “Advisor,” and “Navigator” working in harmony. In sports, we have athletes, coaches, and officials. Now, imagine that the athlete and coach did not abide by their very clearly defined roles. What if, instead, they shared their respective tasks in the game, to help each other out? What happens when a quarterback throws the ball to his coach on the sideline because he is farther down the field, and expects him to run it to the endzone? Even if that was legal, it would be a bad idea. For starters, I haven’t seen a lot of coaches that look like fast runners, plus they would not be there on the sidelines to set up the next play, so now the team doesn’t have any direction for what to do next. This senerio can be applied to almost anything. An Orchestra conductor who gets frustrated with the #2 seat violin player and walks over to take the violin and finish the piece himself is not going to get a good review. At best, both of those scenarios are good material for a comedy sketch. Neither have ever been an element of a success story.

So, why do we do this in business so often and expect great results? Organizations need to not only have role definitions but classifications that define how the roles are executed. We assume roles have clearly defined boundaries or definitions for execution when in reality, they don’t. In my world there are three role classifications that are critical elements to every success story: a Creator, a Navigator, and an Advisor.

A Creator can be given a task and create something, without outside assistance. For example, a mechanical engineer can design a mechanism sitting at a desk, a baseball player can hit a ball into an empty field on a sunny day, or a drummer can smack out a cool beat on a drum kit in a basement. They have each created something without any input or support. That being said, surely none of them are winning any awards if that alone is their full story. A Navigator provides the plan. They wrote the music, created the rules of baseball, and figured out the equations for structural mechanics. The Advisor is the individual who is there in partnership with the creator when the process is active. They strategize, evaluate, and counsel the Creator throughout the entire process. This individual is the sports coach, the orchestra conductor, and the project manager. These three roles working in concert are evident in success stories and absent in many failures.

I believe this scenario to be universal, but for me, it’s especially evident when reliability engineers are treated as Creators. They can’t play this role. A reliability engineer cannot be given a concept or design and be sent off to create a new product or a better version of an existing one. The reliability engineering role is correctly categorized as an Advisor; they guide the Creator to manifest their greatest work. The Advisor has just as much skin in the game and put’s equally as much sweat into it, but there exists no herculean effort that can get them results working solo. There is no music, there is no championship won, if there is not a Creator, Advisor, and Navigator shoulder to shoulder driving to the finish line.

-Adam

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