Introduction to this Survey and why it exists

There are several reasons I developed this survey.

The first is simply to document the status GIS utilization is in the workplace, including both academic and non-academic workplaces.  The second is that by engaging in this activity, us fellow GIS enthusiasts in the academic or non-academic employment setting will hopefully learn more about the prospects of our careers and where we fit in with the field as a whole.  

The reason I refer to both  the academic and non-academic workplace the way that I do is simple.  I consider student researchers to be workers as much as corporate analysts and npo managers using GIS to serve their own corporate or organizational purposes.  The goal here is to determine which one of the two–academia or non-academia–benefits the most from this new technology–academia or the corporate environment.  Now I know there is tremendous overlap between npo business-like establishments and academic environment, since the former is often housed on the campus grounds.  If the bulk of your work equates with small businesses trying to earn an income, or small npos housed off campus and trying to get financial support for that next community park trail or next speaker to do a presentation on some important political social issue, then you are probably a npo that can call itself a non-academic npo, unless all or most of your staff are students.

Back to the details as to why I belive that now is the time for this type of survey about GIS IN THE WORKPLACE.  Anytime a new technology takes center stage, corporate environments like to become the true test to their success.  However, if a corporate setting cannot implement and make use of this new technology, then both the corporation and its customers suffer, especially when that technology could result in considerable advancements in the field.   

For most GIS workers, either since its development in the 1970s with experience in institutional and NASA/NOAA Univac computer systems, or for those of us who were introduced to GIS through the development of ArcInfo for use with Windows 95, Unix and Linux environments,  or for those of us who are most recent additions and never heard of or used ArcInfo, the answer to the questions in my survey are in the least a curiosity pleaser.  Many of us have learned about how the most innovative discoveries are made and diffused throughout successful corporate and university settings, like the discoveries that can be made using GIS, and how these same discoveries often become trivialized, leading many unwilling to engage in the new tasks at hand and instead simply hire out for these services, employing companies that are overrated and underperforming when it comes to true GIS analyses.   The survey I developed is an attempt to see how prepared the different workplaces are for the implementation of GIS as part of the standard skill set. 

The corporate setting is perhaps where GIS workers can be quite frustrated trying to make the best of their resources.  It is not unusual to find that you may have over learned your GIS in order to find work, that GIS alone isn’t the reason you got the job, and that those overseeing your work don’t know about those added components of the GIS you spent so much time trying to develop a better understanding of.  

Unfortunately, due to the large amounts of data available in corporate settings, these are also where GIS workers have the best opportunities to make true discoveries, opportunities often not implemented by the company, which is why I wrote this survey. 

It is my opinion that in the next ten years those companies that make the best use of GIS are those that are going to be the most innovative and most financially successful.  Those companies lagging behind in their GIS, those companies that appear to be years if not a decade or more behind, are those that will more than likely suffer the most from lack of forethought.   And unfortunately, these are sometimes also the same companies that have the most potential for making the best use of their data. 

I have heard arguments on each side of this argument about innovation and the workplace when it comes to making a new discovery.   One question I have been asking myself since working in and out of the academic setting has been

‘Are the most important innovations made in the workplace, or in the university, and/or must both be involved for true innovations to be made?’ 

Traditionalists like to state that innovation and discoveries must by default take place in the academic workspace.  They claim that only after the institution makes the important discovery does it trickle down into the corporate environment and become a part of the workplace.   

Corporate analysts on the other hand like to claim that because so much is done in the workplace in terms of numbers of requests that need to be filled, and the variety of requests administered regarding statistics, that the researchers of this information develop these new tools in order to meet the new demands.  Whether or not these demands result in new discoveries, new applications, new techniques, and new formulas is uncertain.  What is known is that a lot of productivity occurs due to these work requirements, for which some wind up resulting in faster ways to accomplish things, alternative methods to reach the end sooner, and sometimes to find new tools, formulas and methods of accomplishing all of this in seemingly very short time, all with the goal of meeting the financial needs of the forever gluttonous corporate world.  

When one of the first atom splitters was laid on Long Island back in the 1970s at a State University setting, a similar device was built and installed further north in New York for use by a the large corporation.  In the end discoveries could be made in both, with theoretical discoveries prevailing within the university setting and applied engineering discoveries made in the corporate setting.  The same could be true for GIS, if only the right education level existed in both of these settings, which is often not the case.

It is easier for industries to engage in synthetic ingenuity rather than creative ingenuity.  But maybe I should refer to these events instead as to how they were first discussed in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s by neuropsychologists–synthetic genius versus creative genius.  Synthetic genius is when someone takes a concept that applies and works very well in one setting, and applies the same technology and methodology in a different setting. 

Taking the 3D modeling methodologies used in GIS to map out ocean bottoms, for example, and applying these methods and statistical equations to population grid mapping procedures is one such example of synthetic genius.  Anyone in theory could have thought-out this application, the only thing unique is that someone made a complete and effective use of it first before others, usually just a few days, weeks, months, or sometimes, years ahead.

Creative genius related discoveries are those that are invented as if ‘out of the blue’, often with no hint that this discovery was about to be born.  These discoveries typically end up becoming important due to happenstance and perfect timing.  [Do not confuse this with the other common phrase “creative synthetic discovery’, a notion developed decades after the terms synthetic and creative were applied to “genius” in the 1970s.]  Examples of these are hard to define, except for those of the past. (Also see the theory of madness and creativity at  As examples, consider the first people to come up with the internet idea, the first to conceptualize the notion of time as a dimension, the first to realize that particle and wave theories defined the same findings (light).  Each one of these inventors had a certain background and lack of conformity with peers, and most often poor support from those in the corporate setting including any academic overseers and referees who are better off interpreted at times as administrators and managers, not academicians.

To borrow from a blog at, it helps to review some basic concepts already out there about creation, discovery, invention and innovation.

[Begin QUOTE]

Take the Bass Model of Diffusion, for example:

Bass Model of Confusion

Pretty, isn’t it? That’s supposed to tell you how a product will penetrate the marketplace, with the following elements:

St = number of adopters at time t
m = ultimate number of adopters
Yt = cumulative number of adopters to date
p = innovation coefficient
q = imitation coefficient


As I have stated elsewhere, there are innovators (discoverers and inventors), adopters (the early and late supporters) and imitators (the herd effect) . . . or in the manner that I present this dilemma as it seen in life: the average status quo, the infrequent early followers, the occasional supporters, and the rare innovators.

So where do academic and non-academic workplaces fit into all of this?   Where do the corporate settings fit into this scenario?

For GIS technicians, the academic world is perhaps more in their favor if their desire is to make discoveries.  The corporate world is a better place for you if you are more into testing older discoveries in new ways (synthetic genius), with larger numbers and more opportunities to work towards making discoveries this way, but not necessarily with any support from upper echelons when it comes to making discoveries.   The mythical idea about discoveries and innovations that persists in the corporate world is that innovation and discovery are up to people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, not the average ‘Joe Shmoe’ corporate world executive or CEO. 

Likewise the theoretical accomplishments that could be made through innovative designs and planning are just as mythical and theoretical, and to date, produced just as much as they are talked about and imagined to be a corporate world’s next set of goals.  In real life, a lot of conceptualizing and ‘if we do this . . .’  discussions may be born, and talked about extensively regularly at internal meetings.  But stating and doing are two very different things.   And knowing that something “could be done” is very different from actually sitting down and doing what someone else was only saying could be done.  The first step requires only a vivid imagination, the final accomplishment requires creative ingenuity, and occurs due to desires to perform.  The former takes place mostly as a way to alleviate the agonies and frustrations felt for the time due to questionable or limited productivity, and the lack of much innovation.  It is a product of our subconscious realizations that can occur telling us people in the workplace that there are no creative discoveries being made, just synthetic discoveries, if any at all.

In academia, peer support can be plenty, which is not the case in the corporate world–in the non-academic setting you don’t get much support from your competitors–the status quo.

The fact is you make more friends and receive more support for your discoveries in academia than in non-academia.  This is because of the herding phenomenon.  Herding is when you colleagues fit the imitators state defined above in the formula for the Bass Model of Diffusion.

But wait, there is another way to view all of this without the complications brought about through the use of a formula.  There is also the hundredth monkey effect, which states that when one monkey makes a discovery, that  as soon as this monkey figures it out and passes it on to others, it quite soon becomes globally accepted as “truth”, even though it could not possibly be communicated globally by the founder, at least in the physical world as we know it (recall that old ‘cloud of human intelligence’ concept).  As a result of the discovery, its realization, numerous other monkeys from other places in the world make the same discovery, lacking any possibility for communication with the original discoverer.

In the corporate world environment workplace, the monkey doesn’t discover the way to do something that is new and different, and then immediately get corporate and professional peer support.  Corporations are slow and careful not to allow for the diffusion of this new knowledge throughout the local community setting and workplace.  Instead the method gets reviewed and is either quashed, or accepted to a limited extent, and then tested while the required legal research related to patents and proprietary rights get better defined, is scoffed at, and has certain IP related issues better addressed, often not in favor of the inventor as per corporate protocol.  Corporate settings are great for synthetic discoveries, or should I say regurgitation, whereas academic settings are best for innovation and creation, suffering mostly from lack of adequate examples for use in testing  the practicality and applications of the new theories with.

Herding and “herdhead” processes are very different in the corporate world versus most (though not always all) academic places.  If you make a discovery in academia, and it is timely and necessary, the factors working against you are mostly the higher authority, and no more.  As my past chemistry instructor Paul Lauterbur’s experience illustrated to him–it is the poor educated administrators who make the worst discoveries.  He discovered something only slightly more unique than the nuclear magnetic resonator (NMR) equipment used to study metals, ores, etc., etc. , but no one in the university setting thought that being able to visualize the inner workings and flow of water in the human body could serve any purpose.   In spite of per support and recognition for his discovery, numerous internal arguments on campus impeded the advancement of his technological discovery, risking the possibility that the second inventor would instead get the fame.  Ultimately, Professor Lauterbur was refused support by the institution for obtaining rights to patent this process.  He removed to Iowa, was offered several university positions and lab settings in each of the state universities, graciously taking advantage of all of these offers, thereby leaving his non-supporters behind.  Later , he received a Nobel Prize for his discovery– the Magnetic Resonance Imagery tool (MRI) used by most major medical facilities. 

The lesson here is simple – –  you may have your competitors in academia who dispute your claims, academic peers who laugh at your discoveries, and institutional administrators (the corporate side of academia) who cannot see the value in such a discovery.  Only time will tell them that you were right.  The same can be true for the corporate world, depending upon how their administrators relate to new discoveries–the amount of risk they allow themselves to take.

In the corporate world, higher authority has numerous levels, each with a more complexity than the previous and more reign when it comes to making the final decisions about final outcomes.  The dissemination of a new discovery is sometimes hampered by this process, not promoted and dispersed by it.  Like many spatial analysts, I am very frustrated with the slow speed of progress often found in many workplaces.   They often seem very “behind the times” to me.

The most important questions or issues related to GIS employment and GIS utilization in the workplace include the following:

  • is the place where I work ahead or behind in the times when it comes to GIS applications?
  • am I better off staying with academia when it comes to making important discoveries or accomplishments?
  • what kind of life exists outside of academia when it comes to applying all of these theories and skills I have learned and acquired?
  • what is the process involved with making something work that is also very innovative?  how do you prove it works and the results are true?
  • what obstacles to innovations exist in the real world, preventing the distribution of this intellectual property?

When it comes to innovation in the workplace by a company that makes use of GIS, only one or two companies come to mind.  Of course, there are several governmental agencies, offices and buildings that are advanced in GIS utilization, but these accomplishments are typically left unstated as corporate IP related secrets.

For these reasons, the second purpose for producing this survey has to do with the same reason I produced similar surveys for most of the courses I taught.  IF you are taking the survey because you are working in a corporate or institutional/academic setting with GIS sometimes or frequently employed, this survey help you to get in touch with your own accomplishments, the kind of insight that workplace settings often do not provide to you as an investigator, researcher, analyst, program planner, manager, or CEO.

One of my past surveys that I employed for moree than 20 years asked students why they are interested in taking my courses on plant chemistry and the evolution of herbal medicines.   I handed out this survey for classes I gave in New York, Oregon, and Colorado.  These surveys served to put the students in touch with their own inner wants and needs for engaging in my class, and their beliefs in whatever was being taught.  

So too does this GIS survey put you in touch with yourself, your skill set, your work environment needs and wishes, your long term goals in life.   In the least, by participating in this survey you walk away knowing better what you do know, and how to improve upon it to increase your chances of getting a good GIS job.


Individuals who engage in this reflection of their GIS history and roles in the GIS community will produce better CVs in the end.   Their next set of goals or accomplishments that to be made may be better understood.  They may find it useful in helping them decide the kind of GIS work environment they are searching for–academic, government sponsored, npo and special needs related, environmentally focused, financial success in terms of bonuses related, or “big brother” and corporate-like in nature.  Finally, and more realistically, taking this survey hopefully only takes up a little bit of your time, and in the least can be used to determine what new skills in GIS technology have to be learned, and what skills you already know and can more aggressively market your GIS skills with during the next job interview.

Unfortunately this survey is a bit long–too long for places I once worked in during the past as a survey writer and analyst of corporate and health education programs.  Normally 7 to 15 questions are expected for people normally not engaged much in such an activity.  Hopefully due to the focus of this survey, its purpose and nature, and its relation to job seeking skills, the length won’t be too much of a deterrent. 

Other notes related to the Survey

Expected Time to completion for this survey is probably about 20 minutes.

This survey and its results are available for public review and inspection.

No money is attached to its production, utilization or results.

No links recognition software or weblinks tracing utilities are employed as a part of this process.

No name or other locaters/identifiers are made available to me as the survey writer (otherwise this survey site would have been in heaps of trouble years ago)

Since I am not engaged in any obtrusive marketing of this in the form of junk emails and unsolicited contacts, I hope such a concern will also not arise.    I do not send out emails asking people to engage in this survey.

One can drop out of this survey at anytime.


To access this survey, please go to Survey Monkey at . . .


Survey Link


Once the survey is completed, you can close the window.