Looking Forward by Looking Back


looking-backwardThis week, I’ve been writing an article about technology at Woodstock School (INDIA) from 1996 to 2006, when I headed their Information & Communications Technology Department. An archivist asked me to recap my years there so that they could capture the growth of technology during that time.   Fortunately, I had spent my last months there documenting exactly what had transpired, so it was fairly easy to come up with the information.  However, compressing 10 years of developing IT and Communications systems into a summary readable and interesting to a non-technical audience is a story for another post.

While roaming memory lane, I got in touch again with a sense of purpose that had escaped me since my return to the USA in 2006. I found new sources of inspiration for my current work.  When we were building the systems from almost scratch, our team came up against barrier after barrier.  At times, the only thing that kept us going were vision and tenacity.

We started with a critical need to connect to the external world with high speed Internet.  Internet had just been released to the Indian public in 1996, months before my arrival.  We were collecting emails from teachers on 3.5 inch diskettes and dialing a connection in Delhi (300 Km away).  During monsoon, Indian phone lines were problematic to non-existent.  A happy happenstance followed by careful courting of the chief of VSNL the country’s only Internet provider at the time eventually got us one of the first broadband connections to an academic institution.

When we started planning a fiber optic backbone to cover the 250 acre campus, Avaya refused to sell us fiber optic cable because they thought that the gel in their cables would end up at the bottom of the rather steep runs that we had to traverse before their 20-25 year warranty ran out.   HDPE (the hard plastic conduit that you see on large spools by some roadside construction) did not exist in India.  Eventually, after much hair-pulling (our own) and many plans, including possible protection of the cable by building brick lined channels, we got Avaya to sell us cable and found a source of HDPE.

Enough meandering down memory lane…I have found that evaluating my progress and pinpointing the way forward depends on stopping periodically to look backwards and what we’ve accomplished since the last time.  The path forward, highlighted from original visions and hard work, then re-reveals itself in new and interesting ways.  We could not have imagined our broadband Internet connection via microwave link without the many calls and slow searches looking for alternatives to dial-up.  When we contacted the right person in the right situation, the path forward became clear immediately.  Had we accepted Avaya’s initial rejection, we would have gone down a path that would have resulted in a much slower and more unstable network.  However, by considering all the potential cable runs and topologies as we looked for alternatives, we had the plans laid out by the time they said yes.

In looking back at that extremely difficult and rewarding time, I realized anew that rewards come with taking chances, accepting the challenges and working through them to a solution. So as you’re mired in the fog of an uncertain path forward, stop and take a look back.  You might be surprised at the results in terms of your strategies and tactics.

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