Acton Academy Omaha

A breakdown leading to a breakthrough

“This is so hard.” His shoulders slumped, feeling the weight. He stopped building, scooted over, and began playing with the tiles instead. He looked up with tears in his eyes and emotion in his throat. “We’re never going to win the challenge,” he said with genuine vulnerability.

Most days, this hero is upbeat and positive. He is a kind friend, optimistic; always ready to forgive. In the midst of our third round of bridge-building challenges this week, as each one increased in difficulty, he felt overwhelmed. His team had scattered, and he didn’t know what to do.

“Do you feel like you are in your comfort zone, challenge zone, or panic zone?” I asked. I had an idea of what he might say.

“Panic zone!” he said, emotion coming up and out of his throat.

“What could we do to help it be less in your panic zone?” I asked. “Sometimes when I’m in my panic zone, what helps me is to just take one step at a time. What’s one thing you could do?”

Looking around the room, it was clear that our game was breaking down. Heroes felt overwhelmed. And yet, as a guide and game maker, I knew this was a necessary place for them to be. Over the past few bridge challenges, they had been able to use the same, comfortable model over and over again, since the challenge was small. They needed an opportunity to stretch and discover a new model. The best way? Give them a challenge SO BIG that their current model wouldn’t work anymore – which is exactly what had happened. (Business owners, can you relate?) I knew I needed to raise the energy in the room again, to help them sense some momentum to keep going.

I immediately reached in my pocket, took out my phone, and pretended to make a phone call. It was to ‘Bud the Bear’. This bridge-building challenge was unique – it was issued as our friend – Bud the Bear – had reached out to our studio for help. He had been traveling in Colorado and discovered the road in front of him had collapsed. He would be stuck until he knew how to build a bridge for himself. He knew our heroes could help by building models of a bridge and sharing ideas with him.

“What’s that you say, Bud?” I spoke into my phone.

“Really!” I exclaimed. “So you’re telling me that the opening isn’t quite as wide as you thought? As long as the bridge extends for 14 inches that will work?”

“Ok. I’ll tell them. We have some good ideas coming your way, I just know!”

“Thanks, Bud. Talk soon!” I hung up the phone.

Energy immediately picked up as the challenge went from “panic zone” back to “challenge zone”. As the heroes persevered through their feelings of panic and overwhelm, they felt empowered and excited – and even discovered a new model – like using magnet tiles to create a triangle base instead of a square base, which conserved their limited supply and gave them enough tiles to reach the required distance of 14 inches. Towards the end, we called Bud the Bear again to celebrate!

Breakdown, when approached with a growth mindset, creativity, and perseverance – leads to a breakthrough.

What a valuable lesson for our heroes – and such a powerful reminder for me!