A Time for Reorienting

Decades ago, I was backpacking in the Rocky Mountains national forests, and I became disoriented. Long before GPS, we used topographic maps – large-scale maps with each line depicting a consistent elevation. Close-together lines represented steep terrain, and far-apart lines indicated mellow slopes. Using the compass and the degrees of declination for the region, we turned the map to fit the compass directions and then matched physical features around us to representations of terrain on the map. The problem this time was that I had mismatched the features I saw to the map. I had trekked uphill a couple of miles, thinking I was in one creek draw and would soon reach my intended camping site. But the farther I walked, the less correspondence I saw between the ridges around me and what I expected.


We can only move from where we are.

I got out the map and reconnoitered. This time I saw another, similar-featured streambed parallel to the one I thought I was in. In fact, the map showed several parallel streambeds, only one of which led to my site for the night. With a mixture of dismay and resolve, I realized I had to backtrack for miles and begin the elevation gain again. Dismayed that I was “lost,” resolved to get where I wanted to go, I also felt relief that I was closing the gap between where I thought I was and where I actually was.

In a variety of circumstances, this realization has returned to me: We can only move from where we are (not from where we wish we were). There is a refreshing honesty in that.

Translating this insight to family dilemmas and organizational decision points, I have come to rely on a couple of orienting and framing principles that proxy for topographic maps in complex social situations. These have prevented the failure modes that too often kept me stuck in the wrong place too long (in backcountry hiking and other activities):

  • Lamenting that I’m not where I wanted to be, and
  • Feeling frustration that I’m not doing all I imagined I would do.

Recognize the Good in How You Got To Where You Are

Even as we realize that we’re not on the path we want, we can find value and internal orientation by explicitly acknowledging the good in the path leading to our present state. A simple tool called Benefits and Concerns, sometimes used for debriefing meetings, has straightforward rules:

  • Start with the Benefits. Acknowledge specifically anything good, useful, or fun about what has happened in the timeframe you’re evaluating. Benefits can be phrased any way you like.
  • Only then move to Concerns. Articulate concerns beginning with one of two phrases: “How to….” (revealing a process gap) or “I wish I knew…” (revealing an information gap). Sticking to these phrases will not only keep you on the productive side of challenges but will also make it easier to identify Next Steps.
  • For each critical concern, identify a Next Step, with three essential components: What should be done, by When, and by Whom.

Accept that You Generate a Lot of Great Ideas (and They Don’t All Need Your Action)

The other framing principle is Interaction Associates’ “facilitation diamond.” The simple diagram represents that there is seldom only one path forward, and we can rely on a pattern and a cadence to help ourselves progress.

Facilitation Diamond

Facilitation Diamond (adapted from Facilitating Change, Interaction Associates © 1995)

First, we do well to “open” our minds to options and broaden the alternatives we consider. When we recognize we aren’t discovering much new information, we can then “turn the corner” and select which initiatives to prioritize. This “narrowing down” provides focus and increasing momentum as we allocate resources. Overall, the diamond shape reveals that we will have a lot of good ideas that we won’t bring to life. That’s part of the process; having more ideas than resources comes with the territory of living a creative life.


As we observe a new year, we often reflect on whether where we are is where we want to be. It may not be—yet. If you are engaged in a niche, proprietary product, e-commerce business and reconsidering your orientation, we would like to help.

  • Need to get out of your own head now and then after working solo for a time? The HSB Network offers peer-to-peer communication with like-minded, like-doing colleagues.
  • Need to learn business fundamentals without the BigCo jargon? We offer short, interactive courses adapted for small – but complex – not-just-for-profit enterprises.
  • Need a strategic picture of where you’ve been and where you can go? We can offer visual modeling that helps you recognize relationships between marketing and channel choices, supply chain decisions, and financing needs.

Moving through the shifting terrain of today’s economy, we are never finished orienting and reorienting our businesses as they, too, change. The good news, always, is that we can move from where we are in the direction we want to go.