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.  Doesn’t seem like a very auspicious start if the plan is to get to the Pacific.  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 were smart, thinking leaders.

The Hudson’s Bay Start

Their late start and early stop was intentional.  It’s a planning trick 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.

The Takeaway

Not only is this good planning technique, 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.

Question:  What’s a time when doing  a rehearsal saved your bacon (or could have…)?

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4 thoughts on “The Brilliant Planning Trick Lewis and Clark Used that Nobody Noticed”

  1. You are doing a very good job with these. Granddad told me about this one and it is one I wish I had known before I went to Hawk Mountain. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hey, Alvin – glad you liked it! It’s amazing how a decent rehearsal will show you where you can improve your plan. In fact, in planning, if you just get to a 70-80% solution then rehearse, that’s a super way to make refinements and improve your chances of success. Thanks for your comment!

  2. R.Everett Downer

    Great introductory page and encouraged my enthusiasm. Lots of things to look at and place into action. I can’t believe it is all free! Thank you.


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