7 Ways to Embrace Detours on The Road to Success

by Alli Polin on August 9, 2016

road to success

I argued with my husband because I thought our vacation plans felt too busy, too packed and too scheduled. It’s one thing to want to make the most of every moment and another to will an experience into submission through masterful planning.

Based on past experience, our family’s road to success depended on flexibility, not rigidity or fitting in as much as humanly possible. Kids stay up too late, we all sleep in and miss the train; should we throw the plans in the trash? When that inevitably happens, we need to shift our vision to a new opportunity instead of a missed milestone.

It reminds me of a time early in my career when I would spend weeks working on a tightly managed work plan for my team’s work efforts.  It not only had milestones, but also key actions down to the hour for each team member.  It was that work plan that influenced our pricing and dictated our success… or so we thought.

Our client came to me to ask if we could do a job aid for an important new system.  I brought the request to our program leadership.  It was not a part of our original scope of work, but we were coming in under estimate for many of our tasks, so we agreed.  While our original project was well received, the job aid was a wild success.  It was on everyone’s desk and helped stop a lot of would-be headaches.

Even on the road to success, detours can bring some of our most meaningful experiences.  What if you never allow them?

Seven Ways to Lead Beyond a Plan and Embrace Detours on the Road to Success

Think of your plans as a path forward, not a highway with sound barriers keeping you on the straight and narrow.

Getting lost opens the door to the unexpected.

Remember the last time you were lost? I’ll bet you tried something new to get back on track or at least keep moving forward. Also, this doesn’t have to mean getting back to plan – it could be that it’s a doorway that opens a whole new path forward. Don’t be afraid to open the door just because initial plans are foiled.

Countless inventions were unintended, happy accidents.

Superglue, play dough, the microwave oven and  Kellogg’s Corn Flakes are just a few things that are now ubiquitous and not what the inventors originally intended. In fact, many thought that their plans had failed until they realized that by shifting their original path their failed invention was actually a success.

There’s a reason your grandparents liked to take scenic drives.

Taking a drive without expectation or destination means that you have the time to look at the window and take in the landscape; no zooming 1000 miles an hour. When life only passes by in a blur, you not only miss the beauty, but also sparks of inspiration.

Every experience is once in a lifetime. You can’t replicate it, but it can be wonderful every time.

I’ve been fortunate to visit my favorite destinations multiple times on holidays over the years. While I have go-to restaurants, sites, and want-to-dos, they are never identical. Different companions, age, time and many other factors are overlays to my experience creating a new mix of the tried and true in with the new (and creating new cherished memories too)

Schedules that flex leave room for adventure.

Embrace the detours and the adventure; it’s why you’re here. When you feel uncomfortable shying away from your comfort zone, don’t turn and run, use it. Stretch into new experiences and use your comfort zone to regroup and recharge before your next stretch. You really want to live a life that’s 100% predictable? Bet I can guess your answer.

Many paths can lead to the final destination.

Anyone who has used Waze knows that they way you usually drive to a destination may not be the fastest at any given point in time. With Waze or Google Maps as your guide, you trust the wisdom of the app and turn off the road. We all know how this ends – you arrive but without the hair pulling, frustration and rising tempers of staying stuck in heavy traffic.

Don’t get divorced over the details.

Fighting for what you know will work? What has to be? There’s no other choice and no other way? Come on. The most exciting detours are not only ones that you take alone but also when you’re collaborating. Let go of the idea that you’re the only one who has a vision and can see the path; together you can co-create shared success. Besides, just because it worked in the past…

How has a detour led you exactly where you’re meant to be? Do share!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy Guthrie August 9, 2016 at 8:33 am

I think project plans are a pretty good thing; but, I get your point about leaving flex time in the plan (especially when it comes to vacations). Your mention of Waze reminded me of a recent funny story. We had a guest coming to an event near our home. He relied on Waze to give him directions. He was coming at a non-busy time. There was no traffic he was being re-routed through; but, Waze sent him through a farm. He was late; but, in the end, he had a really funny story (with pictures) to share.


Alli Polin August 9, 2016 at 10:42 pm

I think project plans are critical. I used to create them down to the hour for large programs and it was the best way to not only price the project but also size the team to deliver on time and on schedule. There was actually some debate if we’d say “no” to the new, out of scope request because it set a precedent but ultimately having the bandwidth to add value to the client led the day.

Love your story about Waze. I rarely use it but my brothers are huge fans. Too funny (after the fact!) that your friend was rerouted a crazy way unnecessarily. I’ve discovered that sometimes those apps do that and sometimes I’ll push forward with what I know is the right direction and only let it reroute when it’s imperative. When you don’t know where you’re going, not an option. At least he turned it into a funny experience – and took photos!



Jon Mertz August 9, 2016 at 8:42 am


The scenic drives… I remember those as a kids. They usually took place on Sundays and, sometimes, we may end up at the town’s drive-in for an ice cream cone. No plan was made. Just a drive to enjoy the land and what was growing.

My recent detour happened this weekend. I took my son to his college orientation. I have spent no time in the town before. As I got up in the morning, I thought I would see if there was a local coffee shop near by, try something different. They told me to go out the back and there I would find some. To my amazement, a whole downtown area existed out our back door. I had no idea, since we were always going out the front!

Sometimes, we may need to try a different door, too!




Alli Polin August 9, 2016 at 10:45 pm

We used to go on family drives when we were on vacation. We’d drive to the other side of the town and look around when things looked interesting. Life has become so busy that letting curiosity and joy lead the way had become the ultimate luxury that most forgo.

Also, what a fantastic story, Jon. You know, I think I’ve been walking about of my virtual “front door” for too long… it’s time to open the back door and explore. Thanks for the inspiration from your real life experience.

Hope your son loves college! What a time of change and excitement!

~ Alli


Chery Gegelman August 9, 2016 at 9:01 am

Alli – Your post and Joy and Jon’s comments reminds me how important white space is. (Planned or unplanned!)

Detours and scenic drives are filled with adventure and new discoveries.

I can’t wait to see how both of our our expat detours impact the future!


Alli Polin August 9, 2016 at 10:48 pm

White space! Absolutely. I met with one of my masterminds today and one person was telling me about how many opportunities they have and everything is happening back to back and while revenue is growing, they are planning less, creating less and engaging on work that matters less too. Interesting observation. May be time for a detour to breathe, be and reflect.

And oh yes – the expat detour! Here’s for getting all we can from these moments!



Terri August 9, 2016 at 10:21 am


Like Jon, I remember those Sunday drives. My grandfather would take us in his car after the Sunday meal and head for an undetermined destination. Often that destination ended up being the airport where we would study the clouds while waiting for the planes to take off. It’s amazing what can be found in the clouds!

And that’s the point, isn’t it? To take time to find what may be lurking in the clouds. This year I have let many things unfold as they were meant to – no plan other than to lean into what I had chosen to do. By letting go of plans, I have been met with the unexpected and reaped rewards I might have missed.

Letting go and embracing detours is to some degree a lost art. I love that you are reminding us of the power in meandering while on the road of success.



Alli Polin August 10, 2016 at 4:42 am

As I read your words I’m feeling just how hard and how remarkable it is to let things unfold. We always want to be pushing harder and harder yet when we stop resisting and stop hitting walls…

Here’s to bringing back that lost art of the detour and the Sunday drive. It’s where the richness is uncovered.

With gratitude,



Terri Klass August 9, 2016 at 2:16 pm

Love your post, Alli! Although I usually plan most things, this past vacation I left an abundance of unscheduled time. I was worried at first that I would be upset and void of direction. But you know what? It was invigorating to just do activities that seemed right at the time. Also, asking others when we arrived about their thoughts was fantastic. In fact, we ended up changing our overly-planned dinner reservations for more fun choices.

Thanks Alli for reminding us to take time and breathe and leave room for exploration.


Alli Polin August 10, 2016 at 4:45 am

I’ve been there and can totally relate to pre-booked meals because I wanted to fit in all the right places and yet it held us back as much as it added to the experience. I know that I book fancy stuff in advance and it’s often the packed place around the block I miss out on and wish I had time to explore.

Working on breathing more and experiencing more. Breaking old habits…

Thanks, Terri!



zafarmanzoor August 9, 2016 at 11:18 pm

Great post. Very interesting / practical points indeed.
Nevertheless……. Success……… is infatuated with the “efficient”.
Zafarmanzoor, Sr. Executive, Pakistan.


Alli Polin August 10, 2016 at 6:39 am

Interesting. Efficient doesn’t always align with fulfilling, does it? Without fulfillment, there’s ultimately little success.

Thanks, Zafarmanzoor!

~ Alli


Ingrid August 10, 2016 at 1:00 am

Wonderful post Alli. After an unsatisfactory morning meeting I was wondering why unexpected schedule changes bothered me so much… Your post struck exactly the right chord. I need to stop over planning and just let things happen. Thanks for some great advice.


Alli Polin August 10, 2016 at 6:41 am

I’m usually a big time over planner and get frustrated when things go off track. Trying to move more in flow these days. Not always successful but definitely more mindful.

Thanks so much, Ingrid.

~ Alli


LaRae Quy August 10, 2016 at 1:45 am

Loved this list, Alli! My favorite: “There’s a reason your grandparents liked to take scenic drives.”

My parents often say, “Let’s take a Sunday afternoon drive.” The journey was the goal! What a great reminder that we need to have more of that same mentality…


Alli Polin August 10, 2016 at 6:47 am

It’s been a long time since I did something that was solely for the journey. Trying to pass down the joy of wonder to my children by exploring and not just going.

Thanks, LaRae!



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