"Rocky's Story" by Richard Kimball
It was the late 1980's when I got my first glimpse of the Electric Maze® and it was 'love at first sight'. A number of things attracted me: the maze was understated, yet elegant with its black and grey color. The maze was provocative and mysterious with its programmable control module; and most of all I could tell that the maze was very ingenious and with it, I could communicate complex concepts to others, if it only could be mine.
I had formed my own consulting company and I had an impressive list of global clientele in the field of team and leadership development. After some considerable effort, I was able to track down Boyd Watkins who developed the maze. I explained to Boyd that it was not the 'hardware' that would make the Electric Maze so profoundly unforgettable, but rather how it was introduced and 'experienced' in the world. While Boyd would never agree to my proposal for an exclusive relationship with the Electric Maze, from that moment forward, I promulgated its proper introduction into the world. I designed and promoted a signature approach to the maze that I have promoted widely and if there is a 'default' approach to the Electric Maze, I argue credit for that approach (much to Boyd's amusement and consternation).
After the publication, in 1990, of Peter Senge's book, "The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization", I introduced the Electric Maze to Peter Senge's colleagues, Charlotte Roberts and Rick Roberts, at Innovation Associates and soon the Maze was featured in the Learning Organization Fieldbook. About the same time, I authored several articles in the journal Association for Experiential Education that advocated the Electric Maze as a 'practice field' for innovation, creativity, and team learning.
In one article I wrote, I described a representative maze activity as follows:
"To the uninitiated, it is a strange sight. Twenty executive men and women gathered around a 7-foot by 10-foot checkerboard patterned carpet. The intensity is palpable. The group is utilizing a communication system that is part grunts, part hand signals, part gestures, and part clapping. One thing is clearthe challenge captivates them.
"The group is searching for a path through the Electric Maze. After 10 minutes of strategic planning, verbal communication is no longer allowed. Getting themselves to the other end of the maze represents their collective vision. The group has been told that while there is at least one continuous, safe path through the maze, the maze is also full of squares that beep, signaling that the team is off-route.
"One at a time, team members step out onto the carpet and seek to extend the group's forward progress through the maze, which is an error-making and error-correcting process. Since all of the territory is unknown when the exercise begins, productive mistakes (first time beeps) are essential and valuable information. The team's success is dependent upon quickly assimilating the emerging information into a collective intelligence of the whole system. Similar to any maze, the Electric Maze challenge has diagonal moves, side-ways moves, forward and backward moves. Similar to business, the maze has box canyons, dead ends, and confusion points.
"Eight minutes into the exercise and despite the 10 minutes of planning, the team is rattled. Its original strategy doesn't seem to be working. As the information being discovered becomes more complex, the group's strategy is proving to be too rigidly functional, cumbersome, and overly complicated. The group is unfocused. Some individuals hesitate at the end of the discovered safe path, afraid to take the next step on a possible beeping square, even though to do so quickly would be new valuable information. This costs the group precious time. Some group members spurn the group's collective memory in favor of their own individual memory and hit beeps that have been previously discovered. This too costs the group money. Losing time and money, the group is in crisis.
"After more time on the maze, the group begins to shed its original strategy. Rather than moaning and groaning when someone steps on a beeping square, now each person's turn is celebrated with applause. A major transformational event occurs as a young woman gets down on her knees and begins pointing to the safe squares in her territory, rather than following the group's original strategy. The groups behavior is becoming more fluid, focused, energized, and committed. The group moves like a fast-break- basketball team. Everyone is now a part of the team.
"Occasionally when a participant steps on a beeping square that has been stepped on before, it costs the group money, but the group's new orientation is to fix the problem rather than to assign blame. Increasingly, setbacks are rare. Artificial barriers between people disappear. Innovative ideas are utilized quickly. After 20 minutes, the first person is safely through the maze amidst wild applause and cheers. Following this, the group refocuses and a few minutes later, all 20 participants are through the maze backslapping and high-fiving.
"Following the spontaneous celebration, the group surrounds the maze to analyze their results according to the criteria of money, efficiency, and quality. What was it like to be part of this fluid team/organization? How did the team learn and improve? How did trust and support transform the culture? Did the team achieve the results that it was after? What obstacles got in the way and how did the team eliminate them? What were the keys to effective team performance and how can they take this new capacity to learn back to their day-to-day business environment?"
Although I spent more of my time with the Electric Maze than with Boyd, we have remained close friends and partners for over two decades. I am proud that together we have introduced and shared the Electric Maze with thousands of people all around the world. Together with my colleagues at Action Learning Associates, we have managed to travel with the Electric Maze to over 27 countries around the world and in the viral world of consulting, you will find our intellectual property DNA embedded deeply wherever you find the Electric Maze today. Boyd Watkins and the Electric Maze have had a profound impact on my personal and professional life and I will always call him my good partner.