Having a Plan and Knowing Your Outcome Isn’t Enough

During a training I recently attended, we had a maze activity.

Using a marker intriguingly suspended by several ropes, the team had to draw a path (while only holding the ropes) from the opening to the exit of the large maze on the table. It took us a while to get used to the device itself, but then we headed off on our plan to work through the maze. But we quickly ran into dead end after dead end.

Then we got smart and traced with our a finger a path back from the exit to where our marker was in the maze. At that point we had no difficulty using our marker to trace a path out of the maze.

Afterward, we were asked to think about how we had communicated with each other during the exercise. We had communicated well throughout, but for me, communication wasn’t the lesson from the activity.

For me, the activity became a metaphor for leadership.

Interestingly, we all knew the goal (we could plainly see the exit from the maze), and we had a plan (we had discussed how we might proceed, work together, and communicate). Even so we kept hitting dead ends and back tracking. (Admittedly, we were all probably assuming that some “trial and error” would be part of our approach.) But it was only when we went to the exit (our desired outcome) and literally worked backwards that we were really successful.

So, it was interesting to see firsthand the efficiency that backwards planning brings, and noting that knowing the outcome and having a plan on how to get there can be so dramatically insuffient.