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David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: Has GPS killed off the spirits of great explorers?

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20 2014 4:40 p.m. MDT

Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 20 2014 4:40 p.m. MDT

Geocaching is a popular trend among those who consider themselves modern-day explorers.

Johan Larsson

Enlarge photo»

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

Geocaching is a popular trend among those who consider themselves modern-day explorers. Geocachers basically use GPS devices to hide surprises and hunt for small treasures. A typical treasure, or “cache,” might be a small waterproof container. Inside, you’ll find a logbook to enter the date found and add the signature of your established code name. After signing, the cache must be placed back exactly where you found it. Using sites like geocaching.com, virtually anyone, anywhere can locate a hidden treasure close to home or across the globe.

So what’s the big deal? Why do people love it? And why are others so angry about it?

We were not only fascinated by the overwhelming popularity of geocaching as a hobby (the statistics will blow your mind, as shown here at project-gc.com), but also by something we didn’t expect — the amount of people who are seemingly outraged by geocaching. No, there aren’t “anti-geocachers” sabotaging the treasures (as far as we could see), but there are numerous people who call the hobby names like “lame,” “for nerds,” just plain “litter” or an “absolute waste of time.”

We couldn’t resist digging a little deeper into the psychology of something that is apparently so polarizing — the treasures don’t hold any real monetary value, so the reward of hunting is simple gratification. Still, why would anyone be irritated by a person wandering through the woods looking for a hidden box?

According to a paper published by Susan Edelman at California State University, Northridge, psychologists have long studied curiosity and exploration. In fact, forms of curiosity-related behavior, such as “search behavior” — movement toward an unknown object — and asking questions, are activities that would be classified by many as part of motivational psychology. The anti-geocachers might find it amusing that, before the 1950s, early psychology literature positioned the term curiosity with a negative connotation. Curiosity was largely considered an eagerness or greed to get to know something new for the sake of newness or simply satisfy a survival instinct.

On the other hand, numerous recent studies have focused on the lack of creativity and innovation in the modern workplace. Last year, the Institute for Corporate Productivity, also known as i4cp, asked more than 300 respondents about the importance of innovation versus how effective organizations were at promoting it. The results of the study showed that companies know creativity is important, but they aren’t very good at being creative. In fact, a study authored by Beth Altringer of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences revealed that efforts to stimulate internal entrepreneurship at global organizations, regardless of industry type, fail 70-90 percent of the time. In fact, we hear the frustration from many of the leaders we’ve spoken with who say things like, “I’d love my team to be more innovative, but we’ve had to meet financial performance demands that don’t allow time for such exploration.”

In a business climate driven by performance metrics, it’s hard for many to stomach the idea of ideas. It’s much easier to follow a map to a treasure that we already know is there. Has the true explorer died within our culture? Have the pathways, roadmaps, proven strategies and GPS units killed off the spirits of great explorers like Magellan, Marco Polo and Lewis and Clark?

A study of 1.7 million instances of award-winning work conducted by the O.C. Tanner Institute revealed that exploration and curiosity are essential building blocks of truly great work. The Great Work Study found five specific actions people do that help predict extraordinary results. And four of the five actions listed in the findings directly relate to exploration and curiosity — asking the right question, going and seeing for yourself, talking to your outer circle and improving the mix.

How do you revive the explorer in you … or your team?

1. Go somewhere "in-between." Create some time and space to explore, to fuel your curiosity. We all spend so much time getting from destination to destination that we often overlook all the possibilities along the way that could add insight to our lives, our work and our perspectives.

2. Lose your map. If you’ve ever wondered how a child’s mind can be so creative, it’s because they don’t know the answers, and more importantly, they follow their questions. All of us have grown up in a world where our outcomes have been directed and expected. And, although we’re not suggesting you don’t meet those expectations, we are suggesting you let your curiosity be your guide into some unknown territory.

3. Don’t say it. Show it. If you’re a manager, a leader or a colleague who appreciates exploration, innovation and curiosity, it’s time to start appreciating those who practice it. Give recognition to those who are actively exploring for new value.

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times bestseller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at www.greatwork.com.

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