Solari: Leadership is great when it leads in the write direction

Sometimes taking the easy road is OK.

At January’s meeting of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy, we were tasked with building candy bridges in groups.

The idea was simple – a Teddy Graham had to be able to walk over the bridge and a Swedish Fish had to be able to swim under it. Each group was given some of the same materials – frosting for mortar, cookies, some taffy – and then we got to choose from a table some other materials.

It should be easy, and then I overthought the assignment and led my group off a cliff.

“Let’s build a drawbridge,” I told my group.

I had a vision: towers of cookies at either end, ropes made of braided Twizzlers to raise and lower a deck made of graham crackers, ornaments made of goldfish snacks adorning the bridge. A combination of Tower Bridge over the Thames in London and Ponte Vecchio over the Arno in Florence. Willie Wonka had nothing on me.

The Leadership Academy allows people from area businesses to come together and develop leadership skills to bring back to their workplaces. I must have learned something so far because my group was on board. Go big or go home, we said.

There were 40 total points to get, with 10 available for creativity. We were going for a perfect score.

Our hubris would prove to be our downfall. That, and our complete disregard for the rules of physics during our planning stages.

The groups had to take turns picking their additional materials from a table.
Not everyone was going to get one of everything.

We had first pick, and we had to decide – do we grab the bag of Twizzlers so crucial to our plan, or do we grab one of the three sleeves of graham crackers? We went for the Twizzlers, and the next three picks all went with the graham crackers. We had no material for our deck.

Or did we? Still available was the full-sized Hershey’s Cookies and Creme candy bar. It was flat and long enough to serve the purpose. It was also significantly heavier than graham crackers and, it turns out, Twizzler cables would not bond to it with frosting alone.

At this point, the prudent thing to do would have been to stop with the drawbridge idea and make a perfectly serviceable stationary bridge, just like literally every other group in the academy was doing – including the group with an actual architect as a member, which should have been a big neon sign for us.

Nope. I’ve seen enough History Channel documentaries to know that big projects can be completed through sheer force of will. “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama” and all of that. Shorten the bridge, narrow it, and try drilling holes in it so we can knot our cables through the chocolate bar to hold it together.

We spilled all of our American ingenuity into this candy bridge, flanked by mismatched cookie towers. Broken chocolate pieces littering the worksite, monuments to improvisations gone awry.

Our grand plan shrunk, first to reality, then to simply sad.

As other groups decorated their bridge with gumdrops, added amenities such as a home for the Sour Patch Kid bridge operator and a retention pond to alleviate flooding from a Smarties river, we realized we had forgotten to draw a river for the bridge to go over.

Winning was no longer an option as time ran out, but we had a vision and we were going to complete it. We were going to build a drawbridge. We looped the Twizzlers around one end of the cable, securing it to the chocolate bar.

No, a Teddy Graham was not going to be able to walk across the bridge, but it could be raised and lowered by pulling on the cables.

Out of a possible 40 points, we ended up with 16. We got full points for our fish being able to pass under the bridge.

It was a valuable lesson: Sometimes simple is the best route. The group worked hard and stuck to the dream, but we were all ultimately captains going down with a sugary ship.

• Kevin Solari is managing editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2221, or email