More than ten years ago I took part in an Outward Bound trip, white water rafting in Colorado and Utah. For a city-bred non-swimmer, this was a big adventure. I participated at the suggestion of a friend who was on the New York board; Outward Bound ran modified trips for those who might be interested in joining the board of directors. I say ‘modified’ because we weren’t sent off for a day by ourselves to explore and think.
We were an interesting crew. A newspaper executive and his son; a nationally syndicated columnist; a political consultant; the executive director of New York Outward Bound and a couple of board members; and some other outdoors-challenged people like me. Each of the rafts had an experienced guide. The scenery was breathtaking, the weather not so much. It had been a wet spring. The rivers were high and fast, and the weather was either overcast or rainy.
One memorable night it really began to pour. Because tents were too heavy for the supply raft to manage, we slept under tarps, three to a tarp. Using our rain slickers as ground cover to keep our sleeping bags dry, we watched as the rain got heavier. At one point the guide who shared our tarp reached into her backpack and brought out a spoon. We watched as she began to dig a modest trench on the rain-ward side, veering the water off down the hill. Sure enough, the water went around our tarp and down the incline. While not the most relaxing sleep I’ve ever had, at least it was a dry one.
I think of this scenario often when I have a problem to solve. Am I seeking too complex a solution? Do I have a simple tool to resolve the issue? As a manager, are you stuck with the thought that you only have a tarp to keep you dry, and so try to construct a waterproof shelter?
The next time you’re faced with a seemingly complex issue, ask yourself, “What’s my spoon?” I think you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find in your backpack.
Barbara Kurka, an experienced HR professional, offers executive coaching; management training, and HR consulting, the latter uniquely geared toward small businesses. She can be reached at email@example.com.