Self-organization before bedtime

May 18, 2012

When I was a kid, back in the twilight between the late 70′s and early 80′s, a bunch of us neighborhood younglings used to meet up after dinnertime at a small field to play together. Not a lot of planning needed, a couple of us would just agree to meet and then the word spread. One of us brought a soccerball and someone else brought a tennis ball and a bat for rounders. Most of us knew each other to some degree but every now and then a new kid had moved in or someone would bring a friend from outside. We were usually about 5-15 kids and we used to decide there and then on what to do; soccer, rounders, hide and seek or some other game. If we decided on soccer a couple of us would take our sweaters off and then we used them as goal posts. Someone would volunteer to be goalie or we’d decide to take turns. And then we played until our parents called us in for bedtime.

Last night I got to experience something similar once again. My good friend Daniel called a couple of days ago asking if I wanted to come along for night caching with him and some other guys. I like geocaching but for me it’s mostly about getting to be outdoors with the kids every now and then whereas Daniel and the other guys have made this hobby into an artform and a gadget sport.

Night caching

Anyway, we met up after dinnertime, but this time it was initiated by an email and then someone called someone else and someone brought a friend and we finally ended up being seven men in the rough range of 35-50 years old. Some of us knew some others quite well, other’s had met briefly and for me this was a totally new crowd except for Daniel. But we had one common goal; to follow three reflective trails in the woods and solve puzzles along the way that noone had managed to solve before us. We would do this in order to find a fourth trail and the final prize; the FTF (being the First To Find the cache).

Armed with head lamps, UV-light, cameras, pens, paper, GPS’s, smartphones and some candy we set off into the rainy darkness to find the solution to this riddle somewhere in a forest west of Stockholm.

Since everyone else were a lot more experienced than me in this area, I decided to observe and learn about this type of geocaching more than I would contribute to the solution. I did learn a lot about night caching but the self-organization and the self-steering that I got to observe and be a part of was beyond what I could have imagined.

The level of problem solving and cooperation needed to succeed was definitely comparable to building quite a complex piece of software (though more limited in size and time). Without anyone being appointed manager of this group, everyone quickly found roles to fill where they could contribute to the team. Not a lot of words where spoken regarding what to do, it just happened. A couple of the guys took the lead and started looking for the next reflective marker, a couple of us walked in the middle marking the ones we had found and a couple of guys followed after looking for clues that could help us solve the puzzle. Someone called out an idea, someone else went online to look for information. Someone tried out an idea, someone else was already working on the next hypothesis. Not a minute was wasted, and in what I would say was the shortest timeframe possible, without hurrying, we solved the puzzle piece by piece. Reiterating pieces of the puzzle where the first idea didn’t pan out but never getting too far astray since we were quick to put our ideas into practice.

Three hours later, after being the first people ever to sign the log, the seven of us could pat each other on the backs and go back to our cars and drive home to our families for a good night’s sleep.

When we were kids, we were united by the common goal of having some fun between dinner and bedtime. Last night we were united by the common goal of being the first ones to solve a complex problem. In both cases we succeeded very well with our missions, we had fun doing it, noone needed to manage us and we all found ways to be useful.

Do you remember what this felt like when you were a kid? That feeling of being creative, contributing to the game and not wanting to go home when your parents came for you. Do you want to experience it again? We should all be able to have that same feeling that kids have between dinner and bedtime. Every day. From 9 to 5.

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