Debriefing the Challenge Course: Life is Like Chess

Every so often I work as a facilitator on a challenge course. Some days I belay people up 80ft climbing walls, sometimes I challenge groups to make a square out of rope while blindfolded. These are some of the rambling lessons we learn there.
'Chess' photo (c) 2006, Romain Guy - license:

I spent yesterday training a large group of University RA’s. Normally we are outside on the ropes course, but yesterday we brought some activities indoors to focus on some serious teambuilding. It is always a treat to work with a group that has already been recognized for their leadship and commitment to serving others, and yesterday was no exception.

Our morning looked a little unusual: instead of leading one group through a series of challenges, each group rotated through stations at [exactly] 15 minutes intervals and I stayed at my station to run the same activity six consecutive times. This went smoothly until Group 5. I explained the goals, method, and rules of our activity as I had to the four previous groups. As the group went to work, the focused on finding a loophole in the rules as a way to accomplish their goal. I interrupted a few times to clarify the rules, and after a few minutes I finally said “This is not a trick. There is not loophole. You actually have to follow the rules to accomplish this task.” And… they continued to try to find a way around it. In the end, they failed to reach their goal.

Often on the challenge course our goal is to get you to think outside the box. The solution to the problem comes from realizing that resources are available to you that you didn’t think about; this is an important life lesson. We often don’t use all of the resources available to us, or realize that there is more than one way to complete a given task.

But sometimes there isn’t a loophole. The activity I was running was a little like chess: there were strict rules, and in order to accomplish your task, you had to move according to these rules. You can’t change the way a pawn is supposed to move, you can’t change the pattern of the squares.

I am all for thinking outside the box– or “thinking in a whole new box” as my boss kept saying yesterday. But sometimes, life is like chess. Sheer creativity may not allow you to succeed; you need strategy, analysis, and perseverance. Looking for loopholes can waste your resources; figuring out the strategy and then moving according to the rules is the only way to succeed.

In what situations must you follow the rules in order to reach your goal?


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