Monday, April 13, 2015


On the road again, it’s time to fuel up and change drivers.  I take the service road off the freeway, curve along its length, around the mall, past Boston Pizza, to the pumps.  We take care of business, and my husband takes the wheel.

Immersed in a square of my Sudoku puzzle, I don’t notice my husband has turned left, east, back the way we came, instead of right, west, further along the service road in the direction we are headed, to rejoin the highway.   

“Why not go right and continue on the service road?” I ask, as we wait at the traffic lights, facing east, ready to turn and double back onto the highway heading west.

“It’s about the same thing,” he replies.  “The other way, you travel more slowly on the service road, make a left turn, and then yield and merge onto the freeway.”

“So you can go backward to go forward,” I comment.

“Seems that way,” he concludes.

After that exchange, my Sudoku puzzle forgotten, I mull over his statement.  Does that apply in other contexts, I wonder.  Can you move forward by going backward?  Even more important, can you move forward only by going backward?

The examples I generate look like this:

·  In the teaching, it’s critical to access the learner’s prior knowledge and to help the learner make connections to lived experience as he or she interacts with new knowledge.

·  With each lesson, it’s important to give the learner the opportunity to reconnect with what has just come before.  These key steps assure the learner’s progress.  Omit them to move forward more quickly, and, ironically, you can expect to move backward.

·  A thorough knowledge of history helps decision-makers avoid the errors of the past.  Time spent looking backward helps societies move forward.

·  Demolition of a space precedes its renovation.  Once the debris is clear, new construction can begin.

·  Mess and chaos often accompany deep cleaning.  To overcome the feeling of moving backward when I sort, I must keep my eye on the progress that will inevitably follow.

·  Leaders that come into an unfamiliar environment, be it a school, a parish, a company, an organization or a business, sometimes want to move forward quickly with their vision for the future, without taking time to understand the context in which they find themselves.

·  I wonder if the adage, “Things have to get worse before they get better“ grew out of analagous situations.  

It seems, then, in my experience, that going backwards can be an important factor in moving ahead.  Sometimes, we fixate on the goal and forget the steps needed to get there, the first of which might be a step or two behind the start line.   If we neglect the key backward look, any forward progress we might make can be illusory.  That progress can be fragile, not having the underpinning of a solid anchor in what is already known.

The solid foundation that a look backward provides can even justify the conclusion that time for a careful analysis of the past and an orientation to the present context is vital to move forward.  Although it was the humorous look at typical Saskatchewanisms that sent it viral, the Insightrix video made an even more important point, as far as I’m concerned.  The original focus group facilitators represented in the video, not having taken the time to understand the Saskatchewan context, failed in their mission to acquire the information they were sent to collect.  They tried to move forward without taking the time to lay the groundwork that would assure success, that groundwork being a knowledge of Saskatchewan-speak.  In the promotional video, Insightrix, the rival company, took that time (or already had the knowledge, the video doesn’t clarify).  The final scene in the video implies the success that strategy assured.

An ordinary driving decision and a corresponding simple question, then,  led to a conversation that reminded me of an essential truth:  To move forward, take the time to lay the groundwork for a project, even if that groundwork might appear to be a step back.

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