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.
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.