Multiple Right Answers

By Chris Crouch

My spouse and I had the opportunity to visit a very nice resort on an island in the Caribbean. The resort had many fine restaurants, pools, shops and other recreation areas. It also had a matrix of paths and sidewalks connecting the various facilities.

We were vacationing with friends who had visited the resort before, so the first few days we just followed them around. I kept getting the sensation that I was going in circles (or actually more like squares and rectangles). I also noticed that occasionally people walking behind us would take a different path and end up ahead of us.

I certainly don’t believe you have to walk the most efficient path all the time, especially when you’re on vacation. Still, I was curious about why our friends consistently walked in the same rectangles to get from point A to point B.

On our third day, everyone else went to the beach, and I stayed behind to read and do some writing. After a while, I decided to go exploring on my own. Sure enough, I discovered there were many different, and sometimes much shorter, ways to get from one facility to another.

I found it odd that my friends hadn’t followed these more convenient paths, but I just filed that away as an interesting facet of human behavior. I didn’t plan to ever say anything about my discovery. I felt certain I would be strongly rebuked for overanalyzing things while supposedly on vacation.

The next day we were all caught outside in a very heavy rain. As we were trying to quickly take cover, my friends headed down the road that would lead us in rectangles in the rain. Since I knew a much shorter, and therefore drier, way to get where we were going, I said to the group, “Let’s go this way.” Someone commented, “Oh, I didn’t know you could get there this way,” and they followed me and we all arrived at our destination much quicker and drier. And, as expected, I was both praised and ridiculed for my discovery.

What can you do today to try out a new path, or idea, that might improve your business? If you manage others, maybe you can ask them to always bring you at least three options for taking advantage of opportunities or solving problems.

Speaking of sidewalks, apparently when Dwight Eisenhower was president of a Columbia university, two architects presented opposing plans for placing sidewalks around a new building under construction. Supposedly, Ike instructed them to just plant grass around the buildings, wait a year and see where students walked and wore down the grass – and then build the sidewalks on the worn pathways. Too bad the Caribbean resort didn’t think of that.

If you want to get better at thinking like Ike, get a copy of a book titled “Whack on the Side of the Head” by Roger von Oech. You will find plenty of ideas in this book for coming up with multiple right answers.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through