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  • Writer's pictureRegan Bach

When Confronted with a Log Jam, Gain Some Perspective

Updated: Mar 28, 2019

Perspective is everything. If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. This is as true in business as it is in life. For leaders in organizations, it’s critical to know when to dig into the details, as well as when to lift your head up and to see the big picture. All too often leaders get stuck in the weeds for too long. 

Earlier this year, I was on a two-week rafting trip through the Grand Canyon with my family. I grew up in Colorado and our version of a family vacation always consisted of some outdoor adventure. Hiking, camping, climbing, rafting, and kayaking were the norm. Through these adventures, I’ve learned many important and valuable lessons. Facing fear, preparing for the unexpected, and working as a team, I learned on the river, and will carry with me for the rest of my days. 

Using this analogy, envision yourself rafting down a beautiful stretch of river. The sun is out, the water is calm, and the scenery is breathtaking. As you round the bend, you are suddenly confronted with a large, impassible logjam blocking the route. A logjam is created when a tree falls into a river and eventually gets stuck. It often gets jammed between two boulders and forms a blockage that other logs and debris floating down the river get lodged on. Over time, clusters of trees and branches create a sieve which stop all forward progress of your trip.

Now, there are two primary ways to address such a situation. The first approach is to Zoom In, and it’s the position most companies take when confronted with a proverbial “logjam.” Leaders see a pile of logs in their way and they start breaking out the axes and chainsaws. The typical line of thinking: See log → Remove log.

When companies take this approach, it’s all hands on deck. Chainsaws are buzzing and axes are chopping. Sawdust is flying, and everyone is sweaty, dirty, and wet. Slow progress is made, but we’re never quite sure how much. Everyone’s thinking, “We must be doing something right, because we’re all working our assess off!” We see this approach every day in our consulting work.

It’s true, the “hack through” approach may work over time, but what happens when the logjam is a quarter mile long and 20 feet tall? It would take forever to clear it out; countless numbers of chainsaws, and a great deal of sweat equity. Some folks on the team may quit, and we could even have some injuries along the way. We also may have to bring in some cranes and heavy equipment to get the job done properly. It would be incredibly costly on almost every front.

Now let’s explore the second approach — Zooming Out. Zooming out requires taking the time to scramble up the river bank to a location that allows for a better perspective. Let’s say we climb up and our worst fears are realized. The logjam is MASSIVE. Way larger than we initially expected. What are we going to do now? Everyone is left puzzled and scratching their heads.

There is hope, though. Someone sends a small team down to the very front of the logjam to assess things. After some time, the team comes back to report that they have found the “keystone log” — the original log that was jammed between the boulders blocking all other logs. The keystone log is actually not that large, and the team believes it can be removed with the proper tools. 

It takes some planning and logistics, but we get the team to the front of the logjam and they remove the keystone log. Sure enough, the momentum of the river then does the rest of the work for us, and we are able to continue on our journey.

Zooming Out took much less time from start to finish. Not only did it require fewer resources and fewer people, it also cost a fraction of what it would have taken had we chainsawed our way through the entire logjam.

Initially, pausing and zooming out may feel like you’re not doing anything. You’re not actively running around…getting dirty…breaking a sweat. Instead, you’re going slow…to go fast. You’re zooming out to gain the much needed perspective in order to better assess the big picture. That way, when you zoom in, you know you’re doing so in the right way, for right reasons, at the right time.

Remember — If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. The next time you run into a logjam at work or in life, try climbing the riverbank to gain some perspective. You may just find the keystone log you’ve been looking for. 

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