Build the Bridge as We Walk On It

We may know where we want to be, but we will seldom know the actual steps we must take to get there. We must trust in ourselves to learn the way, to build the bridge as we walk on it. ~Robert E. Quinn

I reference Robert Quinn frequently, especially his book Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within. The title of the first chapter is “Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.” As we’ve all been collectively thrust into uncertainty by Covid-19, I’ve thought about this book frequently.

The Land of Uncertainty

As an example, one of my personal challenges has been quite evident while unpacking in my new home. I wanted to find the right spot for everything, right from the start. To say the least, unpacking was moving along at a very slow pace. I finally had to let myself accept the fact that I just needed to get things put away and I would probably rearrange and revise my unpacking several times until it finally felt right.

I am also realizing the same thing is true in my work, and maybe yours too. I need to just start experimenting with new approaches, new ideas, new formats, and revise as I go – be more agile – not be so concerned about finding the right direction immediately.

Another chapter title from Deep Change is “Build the Bridge as We Walk On It,” something with which we may not all be comfortable. In this chapter, Quinn provides the following example with my paraphrase.

Get Lost With Confidence

“In World War II a military unit was operating under difficult circumstances in the Alps. The commanding officer sent out a squad to scout the area. A day passed, and the squad had not returned. It was feared that they were lost. Three days later, to everyone’s relief, the squad returned. They had become lost and very discouraged. Then one of the men remembered that he had a map in his pack. This discovery brought a surge of hope and renewed energy. The leader took the map and led the squad safely back. The commanding officer summoned the leader to his tent and commended him for his fine work. It was not until later that the commanding officer noticed the map and realized that it was not a map of the Alps but of the Pyrenees.”

 A good outcome can result from a flawed map. The map served as a symbol of hope and energy. It allowed the squad leader to organize his men and get them to believe in a common strategy of action. The fact that the squad was again moving allowed the men to begin to calculate and think about where they were going. The process of acting and calculating allowed them to learn and resolve their problem. Quinn calls this getting lost with confidence.

So, if in the chaos of Covid-19 you have been paralyzed and uncertain about what direction to go, just start acting and calculating, begin to “Build the Bridge as We Walk On It.” Lead with bold grace and get lost with confidence.

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