Cub Scouts

Fear, Forgiveness and the Pinewood Derby

Photo of Pinewood Derby care modeled to look like the Chicago skyline.Let me not bury the lead:


Today.  On the cold, hard concrete floor of the garage.  My 10-year-old’s vision of the Chicago skyline, wrought from Sculpey and paint and glue, with a to-scale level of skill and craftsmanship and hard work to rival that of the architects and engineers and steel workers who erected the full-sized Windy City skyline.  Broken — the beautiful thing shattered like glass.

When it happened, I wept like a child — like I knew my child would weep when he found out.

My folly was thinking it needed just one more layer of clear coat varnish.  My folly was holding it gingerly by the tires between my fingers and not firmly grabbing it by its wooden base.  My folly was my hubris in thinking I knew best what his car needed.  And that my age and experience relative to his were enough to prevent harm from coming to his craft.  I was wrong.

What could I do?  I grabbed up all the pieces I could find — I found all of them.  Some had just popped off the base, but some — like the giant Sears Tower (my son’s first experience with America’s tallest skyscraper was NOT in the Willis Tower, thank you) — snapped in three places.  Its twin antennae — as much a part of the building’s signature as it’s boxy-tubes shape — had snapped off as well.

I mixed up some two-part epoxy and started putting the rolling Humpty Dumpty back together again.

When I finished, I felt like I’d done a good job restoring his fantastic job.  We would have to make new antennae, but the main of the Chicago skyline was restored.  I did my best.  But …

Would he notice?  It didn’t matter — I knew that I would tell him.  How could we team up together to design and build the car in a values-based program like Cub Scouts and have me try to sneak something like that past him?

Would he be shattered, as his car had been shattered?  Yes, I knew he would be.  And when he came home from school and I told him, he was.

But by  God’s good grace, kids are resilient and unlike many of the “more wise” adults around them, kids are also generous with forgiveness.  My son calmed himself and listened to my apologies, listened to my pledge to help him repair it, and listened to my assurances that we could make it look as good as it had when he’d put the finishing touches on it only the night before.

He forgave me.  And he taught me about forgiveness.

Tonight, the car gets checked in.  Tomorrow, it will glide downhill at up to 350 (scale) miles per hour.  It might win.  It might lose.  And it might fall off the track and shatter again.  But having experienced the tragic and having recovered from it together, I know for my son and me that whatever happens tomorrow, everything will be o.k.

UPDATE Jan. 30, 2013:  My son raced the car, and clocked speeds at more than 216 miles per hour, against winning cars that sped downhill at almost 230 m.p.h.!  He stayed on the track, and while a couple antennae broke again (clearly the car’s Achilles’ heel) in the racing, it didn’t shatter on race day as it did for me.  Best of all, while others’ bested his cityscape for speed, his design took Best Design honors — cracks and glue and all!

Copyright 2013


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business and life, which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!

Lessons for the Workplace Learned From Summer Camp

Gearing up for Summer Camp 2014 in a few weeks. Wondering what new lessons I’ll pick up this year? 

Each of us has a number of roles – and titles that go with them – beyond the one listed for us in the global address book / outside our offices / in our signature blocks. One of my alter egos is that of the Scouter, a term which means that I am an active and enthusiastically involved leader to Cub Scouts and to Boy Scouts.


I get to be a Scouter one or two evenings per week and on at least one weekend per month. Additionally, each year, I’m also a Scouter at summer camp. During these activities, I feel a keen sense of honor as I invest in the lives of more than 100 boys – really, they are men-in-the-making – including my two sons, 13 and 10.

Reflecting on our most recent camping excursion, I certainly remember the heat of the 108-degree days and the ever-present stink of the bug repellent. I also recall the lessons that I gleaned from observing our boys growing up a little bit, right before our eyes. There are three in particular worth sharing, as they are just as applicable in our offices as they are in the woods:

1) Rely on the patrol method. The patrol method is designed such that the Boy Scout Troop is adult-guided but boy-led. Each Troop has a Senior Patrol Leader, along with a small number of subordinate Patrol Leaders who have a discrete span of control within the camp. If adults are running things, then they are working too hard; worse yet, the boys are not able to get from the experience what they need to get from it to develop into tomorrow’s leaders.

Organizations that operate well employ a similar model; in the military, it’s referred to as “centralized command, decentralized execution.” In an organization like mine, it means that I receive my mission, vision and top-level direction from my senior leadership, but I am empowered at a lower functional (or geographic) leadership level to carry out the mission day-to-day. Assuming that I and the people that I work with are well trained and qualified in our roles – and in most organizations, we are – then the organization runs extremely efficiently and effectively. Maximizing the patrol method model at all levels of your organization will enhance performance, morale and staff development.

2) Be Prepared. Abiding by these two words – the Boy Scouts Motto – is like having a Swiss Army Knife in your pocket. It’s helpful to anticipate what you might need in advance, and then do what you can to prepare for that – be it via having the necessary information, coordination, resources, tools or training for the task.

A Scout won’t hit set out on a hike without a buddy, a plan, a trail map, appropriate clothing, light nourishments and a first-aid kit. Don’t enter a business situation – be it a client meeting, a presentation, a conversation with your boss or any other daily work responsibility – without being similarly prepared.

3) Follow your Compass. By this I don’t mean a literal compass – for the most part, today’s Scouts navigate by GPS anyway. But rather, ensure your daily practices align with your values.

Every quality organization has a set of waypoints that highlight the values that show its members the way through all situations. Similarly, any military Veteran that you encounter will surely remember – and will still follow – the credo and values of his or her service (Air Force Core Values: “Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do”).

The Scouts have a number of guideposts, including the Boy Scouts Motto, but also the Cub Scouts motto (“Do Your Best,”) and the Boy Scouts Slogan (“Do a Good Turn Daily”). In addition to those noted above, the Boy Scouts also have twelve points, called the Scout Law, which exist to guide boys through their Scouting careers and beyond:

A Scout is
• Trustworthy
• Loyal
• Helpful
• Friendly
• Courteous
• Kind
• Obedient
• Cheerful
• Thrifty
• Brave
• Clean and
• Reverent


Regardless the source, be they from Scouts, the military, your own organization or from one’s faith – the concept of values – a compass to show the way – is not too deep a concept for young boys to learn and to follow. And just as they are for young Scouts, they are timeless to provide a waypoint throughout one’s career, be it in Scouting or in the broader world of work.

What other lessons for the workplace can be gleaned from the Scouting experience? In what way would your organization improve if the principles and values of the Cub Scouts / Boy Scouts were at work, well, at work?

Copyright 2012


Deep Thoughts From the Shallow End of the Pool features essays from PR, business, and life — which means they might be as random as any of the rest of the content on this site!