Ms. Beck and her fellow coaches asked the men to notice things and name them without judgment: These are feathers. This is bone. One man pointed out a small pile of feces that rested near the feathers. “It’s from a bear,” he said confidently. “It’s fairly new.”
“Are you sure?” asked Michael Trotta, a master coach and wilderness leader who used to be a schoolteacher.
The man answered: “Yes. You can see there’s still some moisture to it. It’s new.”
“Are you absolutely sure?” Ms. Beck asked. “Try poking it.”
The man reached for a stick and poked at the excrement. The stick broke at just a small tap.
“I guess it wasn’t new,” the man said.
At this point, Ms. Beck interjected that the biggest mistake you can make is to accept your beliefs without challenging them, without applying the scientific method to see if they are, in fact, true. And many of the men, she said, were assuming that they had to do things a certain way: ignore passion in favor of safer bets, act stoic amid inner turmoil, run on an upward trajectory of success and money acquisition at any emotional cost. But these are not rules. These are just theories that haven’t been tested. And, because the way we do anything is the way we do everything, there’s no way she was going to ignore the metaphor from this pile of feces.
“You have to poke the poop,” Ms. Beck told the men. “You can’t just make assumptions about it. There’s no substitute for poking the poop.”