Why ‘Dead Reckoning’?

We thought we’d better go ahead and address this one right up front. What is “dead reckoning” and why on earth would we pick that as the name of our blog?

Dead reckoning: the process of calculating one’s current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course.

So, you see, dead reckoning is a traditional form of navigation. Mariners have used it for centuries—it’s what Columbus and others used during the Age of Exploration—and aviators later followed suit. A dead reckoning position is the most precise position a navigator can come up with, with just a compass, chart, and an estimate of speed.  

Navigation by dead reckoning can be surprisingly accurate, while imperfect. It works even when you can’t get your bearings, e.g., when you can see neither land nor sky.

Where’s the connection to innovation, and to us, you ask? Wait, there’s more! (Also, you seem awfully invested in this explanation.)

First of all, “exploring while disoriented” sounds a lot like what innovating feels like. And despite the imperfections and the vast number of unknowns, explorers measured and tracked what they could. We don’t always see that commitment by innovation leaders under similar conditions, especially with hard-to-measure innovation efforts.

Dead reckoning doesn’t further complicate a complicated situation. It relies on the basics.

Lastly, dead reckoning is an early system. Over time, it moved from a manual practice to a computer automated one. More sophisticated navigation systems like inertial navigation and global positioning followed. But people still use dead reckoning today, alongside high-tech methods—a good navigator never relies on a single method.    

So those are the connections.* We think it’s critical to measure innovation activities, even if it’s difficult and conditions are subject to change. We believe there are simple, even old-school, measurement practices that can be more widely adopted for innovation. And we think it’s still early days for innovation metrics—the more innovation leaders use and refine the simple stuff, the more sophisticated the tools and practice will get.

Any other questions?


* Well, there was one more. It had to do with the fact that “reckon” is one of the few colloquialisms that are used in both of the far-flung places Commodore’s co-founders hail from—the rural southern US and the rural southern New Zealand. If you must know, we barely understand each other half of the time.

Photo by Pete Wright on Unsplash