Aloha Friday Message – February 22, 2008


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The Great Escape

When I was in Junior High I had many wonderful learning experiences with our church youth group. Some of those lessons were big paradigm shifts in my mind and heart. This is the story of “The Great Escape.” I have used this exercise many times in management training to illustrate the importance of efficacious problem solving. Here’s how it worked in the eight grade:

We were given four sheets of colored construction paper and told to use them to make a paper chain. No specifics were given on the size or color of the links. Some of us swapped colors and made our chains diverse, some cut narrow strips and others cut wider strips, some used short links and some used long links and some used varied lengths. No one decided to make their chain look like someone else’s.

Once we had our chains made, the facilitator told us to pair up. Then she asked us to fasten the chains to our right wrists using some string. Turned out we needed our partner to help with that. The next step was to cross chains with our partner and then tie up the other wrist. The result was something a little like the illustration above in which the paper chains were replaced with strings. The instructions were that we were to “escape” from these chains but without breaking them or removing them from our wrists. “Remember, these are chains you made but they are no longer made of paper. They are of the strongest steel and you cannot cut them, break them, or even damage them.”

Now, if you look at the similarities between the linked people, and the linked rings, you can see where the problem arises: The interlock has no openings! Or so it appears. . .

The story that went along with this was that two brothers were prisoners of a great king. He had them bound together like the illustration and told them that if they could escape without breaking the chains or removing the chains from their wrists, he would set them free. If they could not, they would die together. They were give five minutes to solve the problem. Them managed it just before the time expired. I’ll tell you how in a bit, but let’s go back to the paper chains.

Once we finished the exercise we were told, “These chains are chains you yourselves made. Each one is different, each one put together with what you had or what you could trade for with someone else. You built them yourself. You chose a partner to share them with. You bound your fate together with your partner, and did you best to follow the rules. Until you learned the solution, you could not find a way to escape. All of you had fun doing this, and there was a lot of laughter despite the impending “sentence” that would be imposed for failure. However, no matter how much fun you had, no matter how many solutions you tried, the partner remained bound together because you were working on the wrong solution.

“You can have lots of fun, enjoy your work together with your partner and enjoy finding a solution to this simple problem; however the wrong solution is always the wrong solution! You will fin that to be true in life, in your marriage, in your business, in school, in every experience you have. The wrong solution is always the wrong solution. Another thing you also know is that the right solution will work in this situation, but might not work in all similar situations. However, you also now know that sometimes when you think “This is impossible” it isn’t really true.”

When I use this in management training classes, it is always a great deal of fun as people twist and turn, step through the loop made by their partner’s chain, get their chains tangled up, and finally come to the realization that none of that works. Once they see the solution, they often actually reverse the process, link up again, and then try the solution all over again. It is a lot of fun to work on the right solution as well.

Of course, you can see the values this lesson taught. But there are some lessons that are less obvious and have been used in some of my training sessions.
1. “I choose not to accept that these are paper (or string) chains, and I will break them to escape.”
2. “I can see that the efforts of other around me are not producing results. I will work with my partner to examine ideas about how this can be accomplished by studying the problem carefully.”
3. “I will undo only one link, and then put my chain back together outside my partner’s chain. No one will ever know.”

In addition, the chain is a chain you yourself make – just as you yourself forge your life. In real life it is often true that you cannot break that chain, or if you do it is a traumatic experience rather than a liberating one. The opposite can be true if your chain ties you to someone or something that is not good for you. You can break the chain sometimes by just taking action against it. You can find the solution, too, without having to be shown. But always, always, always, the wrong solution is the wrong solution.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
~~ Albert Einstein

Thanks for taking the time to spend a little time with me today. I’ll see you in the moon!

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service.


And you can find the solution here:

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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