The Brilliant Planning Trick Lewis and Clark Used that Nobody Noticed

At 3:30 in the afternoon on May 21st, 1804 the Lewis and Clark expedition set off from St Louis on their famous journey to explore the unknown territory west of the Mississippi.  On that first day they made it three and a quarter miles, and stopped.  That doesn’t seem like a very auspicious start if the plan is to get to the Pacific, but it was a planning trick; they did it on purpose.  Here’s why they did it this way, and how you can put this same technique to use as a leader.

Lewis and Clark planning trick

The Journey Begins…Sort of

I’ve always been a big fan of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Launching out into the wilderness, not knowing what they would find, who they would encounter, or how long they would be gone.  And remember this was in the days long before telephones, the internet, or modern medicine.  They were on their own in a big way.

Setting off that first day they had three boats, 89 people, and an amazing assortment of every little thing they thought they might possibly need for the next two years.  They boarded in the late afternoon, went about three miles…and quit.

Why the late start?  Why the short distance?  Were they that disorganized?  You could probably still see St. Louis from their first camp site; why didn’t they start earlier and try to go farther?  The answer is that they using an old planning trick that had served them well in the past.

The Hudson’s Bay Start

Their late start and early stop was intentional.  This planning trick is often referred to as a “Hudson’s Bay Start.” The idea is that by starting late, there is time on the day of departure to make final adjustments, and go over the gear one last time.  Instead of trying to push off in a hurry at first light, they could take their time and make sure they had it right.

And by planning to only go a few miles before stopping, they gave themselves a second advantage.  In the process of setting up camp for the night they might discover they had forgotten something.  If they had logged a full day’s march, it would be a huge loss of time to go back to get it.  By staying close to their start point, they made it easy to return and retrieve any forgotten items without causing a significant delay to the expedition.

As it turns out, they had been so thorough in their preparations that no one had to go back.  But if they had needed to, they could have.  Smart.

What’s Your Hudson’s Bay Start?

How can you take advantage of this planning trick?   In essence, Lewis and Clark were rehearsing the big move, practicing all of the key things that would be important to the success of the expedition, and doing them in a way that there would be a chance to make adjustments before everything got serious.

Good leaders rehearse. Click To Tweet

Good leaders do the same thing.  As you put your plans together, plug in some time for a rehearsal.  Figure out what the most important parts of your operation are and come up with a way to practice.

  • Before the big event, get the key players together and go over the script
  • Before the car wash fund raiser, gather a couple leaders and the gear and wash one car
  • Before the long backpacking trip, take a short one
  • Before the big presentation, practice your delivery on someone

You get the idea.

Planning Trick – The Takeaway

Not only is this good planning trick, it is also good leadership.  When your team sees you making the effort for the group to be successful, their confidence in you will rise, especially if you discover in the process that something needed to be fixed.

Figure out what your Hudson’s Bay Start is, and be sure to build it into your plan.

Lead On!

Who else would enjoy this post?
About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

Related Posts
Welcome to the Team!
It's great to have you join us!
Ken Downer - Founder of RapidStart Leadership
Please check your email
to confirm (and get a gift)
Get the leadership tools to help
2x Month * Direct Email * No Spam

They are ready to follow...

...are you ready to lead?

lead your virtual team

Subscribe now