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 BLOG >> Recent

Path Finding [Entrepreneurship
Posted on May 21, 2019 @ 08:36:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I spent some time over the weekend building a trail through a wooded area on our farm. Building a trail for me is not a high impact event, it consists of cutting away a few branches blocking your path and putting bright orange ribbons on some trees so you remember your path. Often animals have found paths before you and following them is not a bad bet.


Can you see the next reach?

One recommendation from Permaculture Design is to spend a year observing your property before you make any radical changes to it. You should try to understand the trajectories of the sun through the year, the prevailing wind directions, the microclimates, the flow of water, the flora and fauna, and the lay of the land.

To observe a large piece of real estate with wooded areas requires being able to access those areas of your land. Putting a full road into your property could violate the principle that you don't make radical changes until you understand the landscape better.

A good compromise is to make some low impact trails to give yourself the chance to make the observations you need. Putting in a trail is guided by strategies that you think will optimize the likelihood of establishing a good path with a minimum of effort.

One strategy I use in areas that allow for it is to follow beside a stream. If you know where a stream starts and where it ends you know that following it will take you from point A to point B where you want to end up. That strategy works at to a global level, but as you navigate reaches of the path you may encounter dense growth, fallen trees, and swampy land that make you scratch your head as to the best path forward. In these areas of the path I am reluctant to mark a trail because I would have to traverse the area a few times to find a decent path.

The metaphor of trail blazing is often used to describe entrepreneurship. There are certain people with a high tolerance for risk who will blaze trails were others are too meek to lead the way. That is an heroic description of the entrepreneur, especially when so many also fail. But even failing or treading water does not diminish the fact that the entrepreneur has tried to blaze a new trail. There are many entrepreneurs in the non-profit sector who blaze new trails without monetary markers of success but who make significant changes in other ways (e.g., build community, create commons infrastructure, help people, etc...).

The machinery in our minds evolved from a hunter/gatherer stage that involved path finding and path building as essential skills. That same machinery may be what is most taxed in entrepreneurs building new businesses.

One concept that I find central to path finding in the physical sense is the concept of a "reach". When you are walking through a wooded area and you have to decide where to go next, that decision for me is often determined by where the next "reach" is. A reach is the clearest path ahead in the direction I want to go. If I can see one reach 20 feet away that is fairly clear of limbs, swamps, and fallen trees but there is another similar path 40 feet long then I will select the one that is 40 feet long as it minimizes the path to where I want to go. A reach decision often weights more than one factor at a time. If the 40 foot reach took me away from the stream too far then I might choose the 20 foot reach and hope that I'll find another good reach near the stream once I get there. I'm also looking a bit ahead of the next reach as I decide on the next reach.

If you want to explore natural pathfinding in more detail then one of the best authors on this topic is Tristan Gooley. His site Natural Navigator and his books offer alot of insight into path finding in nature which might enrich the metaphors we use to find and blaze new trails in business.

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