A Path Method: The Art of Organizing Uncertainty

There are times in the life of every team when reality throws us into a tailspin of chaos. What seemed fairly predictable is no longer. It’s unclear what to do with the constant churn of unknowns that can devil and divide us. Moving forward means one thing: organizing the uncertainty.

A path method does just this. It is a question-based way to organize the uncertainties of any kind of challenge, change, project, or passion. It translates the overwhelm of unknowns into clear and manageable paths of progress. The process is simple. Here’s how it works.

Opportunity question

We start by identifying an opportunity question. This is a “How can we…?” question. It can be as simple as: “How can we get our team working well virtually?” This gives us clarity of focus. Clarity is the best antidote to uncertainty. An opportunity question engages our energy, talents, and imaginations. The more our imagination is engaged, the less unproductive worrying we do. Clarity is key to engagement.


Then we identify all the possible benefits of working on our opportunity question. These include long and short term, tangible and intangible, as well as personal and altruistic benefits. Clarity on the potential benefits of a path get and keep us on the same page, which is important because alignment is velocity.


In any space of uncertainty, our unknowns are gold. They fuel the currency of our progress. The best way to identify our unknowns is to first start with our knowns. Knowns are anything that is reality, a fact, what we have evidence for. They are things we have already verified, researched, and decided.


Unknowns are things we don’t know for sure. They include the assumptions of our hunches, guesses, speculations, and opinions. They are what we have not yet clarified, verified, researched, decided, or tried. 


We translate each into questions of who, what, when, where, why, how, could we, should we, and what would happen if we. The power of questions is that everyone has them, regardless of position or tenure.


A path is a sequence of actionable questions, formed from our unknowns. For each question, we identify at least one action to answer that question. Common actions include visualizing, asking, searching, and trying. Visualizing is sketching out in our mind or on paper/screen how something could work. Asking is clarifying or learning something from others. Searching is exploring the endless online resources. Trying is experimenting. We create our path by sequencing our actionable questions in the order we will work on and answer them. 


Finally, we decide how much time per day or week we will work on our path. This is our path momentum. Momentum determines the velocity of our progress. When we need to shift the urgencies of our efforts, all we need is to shift the equation of our momentum.

Refreshing our path

As we work on and answer our questions, new unknowns will reveal themselves. The order and wording of questions can shift and change as we make progress on our Opportunity Question. We might alter our momentum as we go. We keep working from an agile path. 

An alternative to goals and plans

Goals and plans fail 92% of the time for two reasons: they are based on assumptions and life doesn’t work by assumptions. They evoke a continuous hum of anxiety which saps our energy and diminishes our creativity. What goals and plans are useful for us generating assumptions we can translate into new questions for any path we’re creating and working from. Any time we want to organize any kinds of uncertainty, all it takes is a path method. Paths keep us continuously inspired, engaged, and realistic. 


About Jack

In my late twenties I had the good fortune to have mentors who were practice leaders in what was then called the Human Potentials Movement. They inspired me to help organizations and communities realize their potential in ways they never imagined. It became clear this was the core gift that would shape the past 40 years.