Like many folks I have one of those GPS devices in my car.  It’s actually pretty similar to the one pictured on the left.  Since I have it mounted inside my window and plugged into the cigarette lighter, it automatically comes on when I start the car, and is always on when I’m driving.  If you don’t have one of these devices and you are on the road a lot, I highly recommend them.  It’s one of those things you think is an extravagance, but once you get one you will wonder how you got along without it.

The display as shown is actively routing you to a destination, giving you turn by turn instructions.  If you are not using the device for directions, you can simply bring up a map mode where it will show you all the roads in your immediate vicinity.  From map mode you can click into a speedometer mode which shows your current speed, direction and some historical statistics.

This is the mode I go into a lot.  The car I drive has an adjustable steering wheel, which I usually have lowered down as far as it can go.  I just like it that way.  However, it makes the speedometer very hard to see, and it is usually a good idea to have a sense of how fast your are driving.  So clicking into the speedometer mode of the GPS gives me an alternate speedometer right at eye level.  It’s much more convenient.

The statistical information displayed includes top speed, average speed while moving, average speed overall, time spent driving, time stopped, etc.  While I use this view primarily for speed and direction, lately I’ve started paying more attention to the average speed while moving statistic.

It all started as one of those personal science experiment we all do from time to time where you wonder why something is the way it is.  You form a hypothesis, devise your test, then evaluate results.  For me, the question was why it took me over an hour to drive to work when I knew it was only slightly more than 30 miles there.

I wasn’t totally without clues on this one.  I work close to downtown Cleveland, and there aren’t a whole lot of highways heading into town, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that getting caught up in rush hour traffic will slow you down considerably.  But what I always found odd is that it seemed to take almost exactly an hour to get to work regardless of how much traffic there was or which route I took.

So one day on the drive in, it dawned on me I could probably use the stats from the GPS to get some meaningful data on the topic.  The next day before leaving for work, I reset the information and headed out.

Well, it only took a couple days to find out that when you factor in stopping and starting your overall average speed is a lot lower than you would think it is.  I do tend to take more “back ways” than highways to work (more scenic, less stress), but even so an overall average speed around 27 mph seemed really low.  The overall moving average (which doesn’t count the time you are stopped) was only around 37 mph.

This all made a good amount of sense as I live around 33 miles from my office and it takes me a little over an hour to get there.  So basic math would tell you my average overall speed has to be somewhere a little less than 33 mph. 

The insight to Character came when I started watching these stats over a couple weeks. 

The basic numbers more or less get set fairly quickly.  A day, two at most, and most of the numbers don’t budge much.  So you don’t have to wait long to get a sense of these averages.  The other thing I noticed is that once the numbers are set, even a major change doesn’t move them a lot.  As I said, I tend to take the back roads where the speed limits are generally between 35 – 40 mph.  After letting the averages get set for just two days, I took the highway home.  It was a light traffic day and I was cruising around 70 mph most of the way home.  The impact to my averages?  A couple tenths of a mph.  Not a big change.

So what did this teach me about Character?

It only takes a short time to reveal your Character

We all like to think we’re complicated beings, with a wide range of emotions, abilities and responses.  The truth is I think it doesn’t take very long at all for most folks to pick up on the kind of person we are.  The old cliche that says “you only get one chance at a first impression” speaks to this, I think.

In my current job working with entrepreneurs, we often help educate them on the benefit of basic market research to validate whether the market wants their great idea or not.  Often, we will introduce the entrepreneur to a local service provider who can help them with the research.  Recently, I had a chance to meet a new consultant that specialized in market research in the consumer goods sector.  Unlike many of her competitors, one of Jamie’s value adds to the entrepreneur is the ability to get good market research done for a fraction of the cost.  How does she do this?  Jamie has found she can get meaningful feedback on a product through drastically less interviews.  Whereas many of our other service providers will line up 50 or more people in a market research study, Jamie contends that she can get feedback almost as good with 8 – 12 people.

This correlates well with my casual observations throughout my career.  In a variety of contexts I have conducted surveys.  Customer satisfaction surveys, which of these options do you like surveys, how should we attack this problem surveys, and more.  What I have found is that more often than not the majority answer(s) after a very small number of returns holds up in the long run. 

And so it is with other’s perception of your Character.  It only takes a small number of experiences for peers, associates and friends to form an opinion about you.

The second lesson my GPS taught me about Character was:

You cannot change perceptions quickly, or with small deeds

Just like after only two days of establishing an average moving speed, driving twice as fast had virtually no impact on that average, once someone forms an opinion or perception of your character, it will not be changed quickly.   The more interesting observation I think, is that it will not be changed through minor tweaks.  No, to change a perception I think you need drastic change over the long haul.

So, what will I do differently?

  1. I’m going to stop worrying about what new acquaintances are thinking of me.  I probably can’t do anything about it anyway.  This follows the “actions speak louder than words” cliche.  Stay authentic.
  2. I’m going to recognize that higher levels of Character and therefore Leadership require ever higher levels of action.  Those higher levels also need to be sustained to have an impact.  Be willing to commit to change.
  3. I will stay aware that my Character doesn’t exist in a vacuum, rather is the product of, or at least is influenced by, my surroundings.  Putting one’s self in better surroundings doesn’t guarantee better Character, but it certainly can’t hurt.  Be proactive to get yourself out of negative situations.