I was hiking in the Hemingway Wilderness Area of Idaho a few days ago, and I came to the first trail junction just five minutes from the trailhead. The primary intersection is unmarked, and the decision point is crucial if one wants to head towards the proper drainage and the adventure they planned. For years a signpost existed here, and somebody or something removed it. Now the lack of clarity creates a moment of anxiety for those who have not previously traveled this route. There are signs further up both trails to direct users to the appropriate peak or alpine lake.
We might think we have set up our fans for success, but sometimes we are so busy marking the summit and iconic features that we forget to check on the trailhead. We overlook the first few steps because they are so apparent to us. How might we learn from those encountering us for the first time? How might their experience help us be better wayfinders?
When I first encountered this sign I missed the arrow for Vaca Ranch and assumed every outfit was to the right. It seemed obvious that the main course of travel went right. Among the noise and clutter, it is hard to stand out, despite taking the road less traveled. Just because we are on different route than the rest, does not mean those seeking us will be successful in navigating to our location.
When we navigate using the constellations and stars in the night sky, we rely on light generated in the past. A few stars might not exist in real-time, their fate unknown to us since it may take hundreds of light years for current illuminations to reach us. So, we proceed confident the past will secure our coordinates.
When we plan, we review. We take what we know now and attempt to rationalize and transpose it onto the blank canvass that is the future. We make broad assumptions and overlay current conditions. If we want a tropical vacation in 2023, we believe that historical weather patterns will hold and we can rely on Hawaii to meet certain atmospheric parameters.
There is no fault in this approach, it has served us faithfully in many examples. Mondays have a familiar routine compared to Saturday and we can account for trends. Except when the past does not equal the future.
Where do we turn in these moments that break the blockchain? We navigate from our values and training. Our values are behaviors that are foundational and we will not sacrifice except under extreme duress and our training is what we practice (intentionally or not) on a regular basis.
Fire departments hold drills to reinforce training and values. Laddering a building is not the most complicated task. However, footing a ladder on uneven snowy ground in thick smoke, while flames roll out of a second story window, and rumors of entrapped occupants circulate; that is when the stars are obscure and we cannot easily consult the plan. We adapt, get creative, deploy our resources to maximize our talents, and rely on our training and values.
Many fire departments share a motto that is paraphrased as follows: we take reasonable risks to save property, we take a lot of risks to save a life. Values matter and they are often most visible when the conditions are extreme.
When we plan, do not forget to confirm the values of the people on the expedition. If everything goes as predicted the plan may succeed as scripted. However, when the conditions change to challenging, our values will override the plan and new options and decisions must be considered.
How might we make time during our planning to confirm our values? It might be the best planning decision we make.