VI. The MAZE Principle

More than one path, more than one objective, and resources enough for several attempts.
Dr. Albert Künstler

journey to uncharted lands commences in blissful ignorance. The goal from afar presents itself as somewhat indistinct, yet desirable, thus explorers hope to soon have it within reach.

No matter how much they want to succeed, in the face of uncertainty, the key question always remains: how much resources, time and effort should be allocated to achieve the goal?

Planning a journey is always a choice between anticipation and apprehension.

It is not unusual to expect hindrances and unforeseen deviations on the road and thus keep some reserves in store. When the expedition is expected to take 100 days, many commanders would supply provisions for 120 days.

Such prudence, being perfect for an ordinary Delivery project, proves to be insufficient for a Discovery quest. Endless examples could be given of such discovery endeavors protracted from 100 to 300, 500, or even 1,000 days.

A research project is a journey through the labyrinth of uncertainty.

Verily, every research project is a journey through an obscure labyrinth of uncertainty full of traps, dead ends, obstacles, elevating tiers, and dragons.

Explorers in a labyrinth should follow the MAZE principle:

Multiple Alternatives, Zigzag Expansion.

We will discuss this further.

Anticipate three, celebrate one: More than one path, more than one objective

Planning from the bird’s-eye does not work in a maze. From the sky, it seems that a straight path between A and B is not a long walk, but on ground level, all the walls and partitions, dead ends and traps become visible. Trivial actions turn out to be laborious, and wandering around in a circle and returning to the starting point is inevitable.

Summarize all these costs along the actual zigzag trajectory and see that the amount of unplanned work is not 20% at all, but rather a multiple of the original assumptions.

Worse yet, in a labyrinth, there is no guarantee that there is a safe path at all. It is quite possible that travelers will have to break down walls and climb towers, or even give up trying to reach their goals and retreat, even with abundant supplies. In any case, the explorers should have enough resources for several attempts.

Knowing the nature of zigzag advancement, the commander needs to have not one, but several objectives.

It is wise to have two or three objectives every time so that the crew can advance towards one while the path to another is blocked. There should always be several alternatives, several hypotheses, several solutions to test.

Such a reasonable strategy may notwithstanding receive a portion of criticism.

Some may argue: “A hungry lion chases one antelope, but not three”.

By that they mean: Several goals means increased work in progress, being opposite to a focused effort. Multiple objectives is too much of a commitment and requires more resources.

That’s true for a lion. And I would answer this way:

Firstly, the lion is a powerful animal, it is stronger than any antelope, and it can take on any of them. Researchers are the opposite, they face a much stronger challenge that others consider impossible, and have to use their wits to find a way forward.

Secondly, the lion hunts in an open plain, not in the obscure maze full of traps. If the path is blocked your persistence may help not. It is wiser to explore a walkaround before attempting to break the wall.

Lastly, one antelope is enough for a lion to satisfy his hunger and feed its cubs. The same way, in research even setting three objectives, you should celebrate one of those completed, without demanding all three to be met.

For that, I say:

Anticipate three, celebrate one.

Look at the sales people, at venture capitalists. They pursue several prospects, they diversify their efforts and investments, and celebrate the fruits from one of several trees. The same way researchers test multiple hypotheses and gather fruits of those few that succeed.

Keep reserves quadrupled for multiple attempts

As per traditional management rules, business leaders should be lean and efficient for the benefit of their corporations, avoid risks and excessive spending, and choose suppliers that promise magic ponies at minimal cost. Procurement is obliged in plain text to haggle discounts and lowest prices at every occasion. That course of action is truly reasonable for Delivery projects.

But does it work in the world of Discovery? Is it wise to believe that everything will work out the first time? There is a chance indeed, but is it worth your stakes?

The first attempt is usually a failure, valuable for the exploration of constraints and accumulation of mistakes.

The second attempt guides the explorers into the right direction.

The third gives them intuition to avoid traps and expand.

The fourth brings them confidently to their objectives.

The zigzag maneuvering in Discovery is not a sign of an inexperienced or apprehensive captain. Even though the zigzag motion consumes more resources, it is the method of a skillful explorer.

Hence, the stingy prince who expects a straight road and keeps resources scarce is in trouble upon the very first complication.
The wise commander who has reserves enough for a zigzag expansion, succeeds.

Determination and faith are needed for innovators and big dreamers to undertake unprecedented endeavors, convince their princes to make seemingly unwise investments, and leap into uncharted lands. It is not a call to be wasteful, but to be reasonably thrifty in the maze of uncertainty. Practice and discipline are required here too, and our entire book is devoted to how to become a master pathfinder and a lean explorer.