For leaders, a slot canyon can provide perspective on your perspectives

Slot canyons provide a perspective on your perspectives, Nancy Napier writes. Bob Kalrich in the narrow slot canyon at Snow Canyon State Park in southwestern Utah in April 2015. Carl BSr on Flickr

Last week, I walked into a cool dark strip of sandy space, about 2 feet wide, flanked by high sandstone walls. Snow Canyon Slot in St. George, Utah, was the treat at the end of a long hot hike.

To enter meant squeezing through about a foot of space between a tree trunk and a vertical wall. I made some pretzel body moves — turning sideways, foot extended as far as I could push it, hugging the tree to wriggle myself through. Inside, the air was cool. Petroglyphs covered one side of the fragile sandstone walls. Their makers had a sense of humor, making sheep and humans look almost unworldly in that spooky setting.

But the perspective looking straight up is what struck me: dark walls reaching up 10 times my height. At the top, the contrast with the clear azure sky hurt my eyes. A sliver of moon rested on the edge of the skinny horizon. Then I realized that I could see the moon only because of chance: It happened to be with the range of my slice of view. To see birds or clouds from within that slot would be impossible unless they happened by. The walls gave me a view only directly above. Who would choose that perspective if he or she had a choice to be where the wider landscape was possible?

But that narrow, limited viewpoint is what many of us do choose, almost unwittingly. When we stay within our own fields or disciplines — whether art or engineering, marketing or religion — we are limiting our views. It may not seem so, since there are so many sorts of industries and problems, but in essence we are looking at what happens within the view available, instead of forcing ourselves to seek a wider view.

A day after the slot visit, I hiked up Gunlock Trail. The area around St. George emerged from three major land masses coming together: the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. Near the top, the view encompassed bit of each of those, including the Pine Valley laccolith, which is assumed to be the world’s largest.

From that vantage, I also saw a cinder-cone volcano and white-checkerboard sandstone, lizards and toads, lichen and moss, narrowleaf yucca and hedgehog cactus. I learned about the interaction of the plants, animals, rocks, water and air.

But my bigger “Aha!” moment was the advantage of having a much wider landscape, which allows me to choose what to look at. I also noticed so many factors beyond my control and thought about how they affected me and I them, if at all.

Leaders need that ability to see a wide view, to expand their perspectives, to realize there are many forces that can influence how their organizations operate. Staying within our own worlds, disciplines, fields and viewpoints will offer us only the odd chance to be exposed to the complexity and wonder of our economic and business opportunities.

My new suggestion on how to expand your perspective: Go take a walk in the Foothills and see what that opens up about your work world.

Read more here.