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The Efficient Explorer


While in Hong Kong I met with How Man Wong, the famed explorer, photojournalist and founder of the China Exploration and Research Society. Among his achievements is the 1985 National Geographic expedition in which he led a team to discover what is now recognized as the true source of the Yangtze River. He currently has active expeditions throughout South East Asia from Tibet to Myanmar.

As we ate our lunch together, How Man told me a story about the previous day. Some people from an unmanned aerial vehicle company had come to show him a new type of drone for taking pictures during his expeditions. Their pitch to him was that it would give him a new angle.

As an explorer I liked the sound of this intriguing proposition. I thought, “Who wouldn’t want a new angle?” But How Man continued, “I told them, ‘I don’t need a new angle.’” He explained to me what he told them, that he had been using drones and seeking special angles in photography for over 30 years.

Then he made the statement that stuck with me. He said, “The only reason that I would add a new angle is that if it would cause a change. Adding a new technique means nothing unless the new technique leads to a change in practice or thinking.”

How Man reminded me that a critical, often overlooked feature of smart exploration is efficiency. The wise Explorer does only what is necessary to get the job done, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing is added just because it’s interesting. But if something is added, the addition must increase the impact or lead to greater insight or efficiency. This added “tool,” if not needed, is unnecessary ballast. It must be avoided.

Don’t miss this, Explorers. There’s an important counterintuitive dynamic happening here, and How Man is giving us insight into something significant. For example, the most “efficient” use of an Explorer’s time could actually be investing a lot of time (not just a little) in order to figure something out. In the ExPLORE methodology we call it Pondering.

The quest for efficiency is usually observed in the domain of the number-crunching manager, not the horizon-seeking Explorer. But Explorers need efficiency too. In understanding efficiency with regards to exploration, it’s about focusing effort on only what’s necessary to find that which is hidden, nothing more and nothing less. Explorers need to keep their loads light, to keep their expeditions moving forward.

As in the example of investing time to Ponder, wise Explorers take the necessary time to do what needs to be done; they do not waste their time. This may mean they do not take too much time, nor too little! They take the time that is necessary (even if it’s a lot) to reach the desired goal.

Now, If only I could get a great explorer name like the How Man Wong!


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