The Maze Hack

Somewhere along the way, someone introduced me to the easy way to solve a maze. I don’t know if it was my older brother or simply some other kid in my third or fourth grade class. From that day forward, even though it felt like cheating, I don’t think I ever worked a maze “correctly” again.Back-to-School-Printable-Maze-Game-For-Kids

This morning my seven year old was working a maze on the back of a cereal box. I debated whether or not to give her the hack. I decided that she will either figure it out on her own or someone along the way, maybe me, will give it to her later.

If your not familiar with the hack, I think you have wasted enough of your life. The trick is that you simply start at the end and work your way backwards to the start.

There is usually only one correct path heading toward the beginning if you start at the end. Once we see it, the whole path seems to open up in front of us. Starting at the beginning, however, presents many different paths and choices. All but one representing wasted resources and having nothing to do with getting us to where we need to be.

Regulation has conditioned us to start at the beginning of the stormwater maze. It pushes us to hit roadblock after roadblock trying to sort out “the right way” to keep ourselves and our client “in compliance.” Most of the time, we never make it to the ultimate goal of effectively protecting water quality. We simply arrive at stations along the way where we are rewarded with accommodation and rest as we satisfy the bureaucracy and tradition of how we’ve always done it. We usually just stop and sit at these islands where the regulatory natives pat us on the back and congratulate us on keeping our paperwork up. The project (or our career) ultimately ends, and we feel good that we made it to the magic kingdom of compliance (which, I’ll admit, is right where we are often paid to arrive).

But what if we started at the end and worked backward toward the start?  What if we chose effectiveness and excellence in water quality protection first, then worked our way back to the NOI? I’m sure we would hit some of the regulatory milestones along the way, but I suspect many would not be on the critical path.

The challenge for the stormwater practitioner and the stormwater regulator is to make compliance a collateral benefit of commitment. The practitioner must demonstrate heart and intent as some of the hoops off of the critical path are missed. The regulator must see pride for what it is and do everything they can to encourage positive intent and not distract it through frustration.

But Barry, what about the journey?

I enjoy a good journey as well. I love an adventure. Heck, I even appreciate the planning that goes into a good trip. My experiences with working mazes “the right way” has been far from an adventure. Most of the time, the maze and it’s intentionally misleading backward directions were placed in front of me to simply pass the time, not to enrich my life. I am pretty sure that when I learned the hack, I mourned for all of the time I had wasted in my young little life.

I must admit that I have never seen the challenge of a corn maze or a fancy English garden privet maze. Maybe my take on mazes would be different. But to be fair, I have paid for my older two and I to run around a hot gravel-bedded maze made of privacy fence pickets at Desoto Caverns once.  I think we ended up playing hide and seek and crawling back and forth under the walls. It was a great day that really had nothing to do with starting at the beginning and following directions along the way.

Spend your time bumping into walls, or make yourself feel good by making others bump into walls if you want, but our waters deserve better and society expects more.

One thought on “The Maze Hack

  • I enjoy your blogs and usually find myself nodding my head in agreement. With this one, I agree 100%. This is exactly what I have believed and how I have tried to operate throughout my entire working life, whether it was for the protection of wetlands, water quality, aquatic and terrestrial habitat protection, or T&E species protection. As is true for many environmental professionals, I came into EPSC work based on my commitment to the protection of clean surface waters, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and soil conservation, which just happen to be the goals at the end of the hypothetical NPDES compliance maze. Thus, it is natural for me to understand the approach you describe. Unfortunately, it could be that this commitment has made me unemployable because it seems that is not what most clients and developers (and subsequently,their contractors and consultants) see as the endpoints or goal. It is difficult to work back from the endpoint of the maze when you and your client or employer are using different endpoints. Their endpoint may be to do as little as possible as cheaply as possible just to, as you say, “arrive at the stations” and submit all the proper forms with the assumption that they will never get caught or receive a notice of violation. Their paid consultant and inspectors, after all, are caught in an ethical bind and are not going to report them, and regulatory agency inspections are rare. This has just been my experience, and the Pollyanna in me that still survives really wants to hope that it is isolated. The experiences of others may be quite different depending on where they have worked in the country and who they have worked for. I remain on the quest for the employer and/or client who recognize that the goal of environmental regulation and permit requirements are protection of water quality and the environment and who will allow their consultants to create cost-effective plans to meet that goal and thus assure that the client’s project is in regulatory compliance. (In addition, will follow permit requirements by correcting any deficiencies that are identified in site inspections in a timely manner, but that is a subject for another day.)

    I am aware that with this post, I might be sabotaging my efforts to find my next place of employment – which, by the way, I am searching for right now if anyone out there is looking for someone who just happens to think a lot like Barry Fagan on issues concerning EPSC and water quality :-)

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