Seeking Third Satellite

Some time ago, our work took me to downtown Boston. A colleague and I had flown in late in the evening and had a client meeting the next morning. The weather was poor and I was glad that we had access to GPS. As annoying as the system’s mechanized voice could be (“Right turn in point five miles”), Randy and I appreciated the clear direction as we left the hotel and made our way through the maze of streets and highways under construction.

Near Faneuil Hall, however, in the middle of a critical voice instruction, the system cut out. I looked at the small screen, hoping that the bright pink arrows would guide me when the voice did not, Instead, I saw a green band running left to right across the screen with a text message indicating that the system was “seeking third satellite.” While Randy scavenged for the complimentary city map from Hertz, we started a conversation about GPS programming.

Global Positioning Systems may rely on space-age technology-satellites-but they also employ an age-old methodology to guide befuddles travelers like Randy and me. That methodology is called “navigational triangulation,” and reduced to its basics, it is simply a matter of using the intersection of lines from three points to locate someone or something in space. Before there were satellites, someone seeking to pinpoint a location could use three landmarks to achieve the same results.

As Randy and I reviewed our collective knowledge of GPS and triangulation, we were struck, not by another car, I am happy to report, but by an analogy. As we creative types are prone to do, Randy and I started to connect the dots between the idea of navigational triangulation and our work as marketing communicators for our clients in the higher education sector. We observed that, like a GPS, today’s colleges and universities need three perspectives in order to position themselves accurately with respect in their environments.


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Rick Bailey

Rick is the Principal and founding partner at RHB.