Mazes as Mirrors of Creation

This is a guest post by Dan Schmidt of mazestructure.com. His booklet Maze Structure was distributed as schwag at Refactor Camp 2019.

When I was a child, I drew mazes (like the one below) to “wow” people with complexity. A psychotherapist friend of my parents said I was externalizing my brain on paper. Others liken my maze drawings to intestines. I prefer the brain comparison.


There is a difference between creating for self-expression and creating with a purpose. When you create purely for self-expression, the reward is seeing something from your head outside in the world. The externalization is itself the end, regardless of its effect. When you’re creating with a purpose, in contrast, success depends on the outcome. With each iteration, you try to bend reality one step closer to your vision while adjusting your vision to your evolving understanding of reality.

One way to purposefully alter the world is to win a market. A market is a relatively static intersection of economic, behavioral, and technological conditions. If you can out-perform incumbents by building a better mousetrap, you can move consumers to spend their money on your product instead of someone else’s.

Zero to One maze

This maze illustrates the journey, as described by Peter Thiel, from Zero to One. “Zero” represents the true start of a startup where you have nothing other than the contents of your skull. You’re intention is invisible. When you reach “one,” reality has reorganized around your creation. You exist.

The structure of the maze is borrowed from my graphical model, The Product Management Triangle. After departing from “zero,” you must manage a complex interplay of tensions pulling your company in different directions. You arrive at “one” after discovering a combination of business, technology, and user experience elements that fit together and scale.

The maze is designed to punish you for prematurely grasping for scale before you achieve holistic fit. If you try to scale your user base through an unsustainable paid acquisition avenue, you’ll find a dead end.

While winning a market dings reality, from a broader perspective, the change is minor if the market itself stays intact. The most impactful companies engender new markets, new behaviors, and new industries (as illustrated in a later iteration of the product management triangle). “Impact,” in this sense, isn’t inherently good or bad.

Mazes have an unusual ability to evoke the process that starts from an idea and ends at a universe-denting creation. Consider, for example, Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

Gutenberg Press maze

The maze simulates Gutenberg’s creative journey as described by Arthur Koestler in The Act of Creation. The structure consists of visually distinct sub-mazes representing (1) his vision to print copies of the bible, (2) his experiments to apply mechanics from other disciplines such as wine harvesting and coin making, and (3) his ultimate invention of the printing press.

Satisfying Gutenberg’s vision requires traveling from “start” to “end” in the maze. While the start and end points are close together spatially, there is no open path within the inner region of the maze. Gutenberg, at first, is creatively blocked. Instead, you must travel to different domains until you find that the discipline of coin making holds the key breakthrough Gutenberg needed to execute his vision. To understand this maze in detail, watch the video.

I create mazes for aesthetic and symbolic impact. The new maze booklet, Maze Structure, takes things further: it’s my most serious attempt to create mazes that kids and adults will actually want to roll up their sleeves and solve.

Mazes are strangely simple and complex at the same time. As long as you understand that you can’t cross the lines, you can navigate an elaborate maze. As long as you keep trying new paths, you’ll find a solution.

However, if you want to solve a paper maze efficiently, you must leverage your ability to look beyond your current position in the maze. Your vision of where you want to go is instrumental.

Here’s an excerpt from Maze Structure. If you approach this maze as you would a physical maze in the real world, you might wander in from the start and guess the correct path, one decision after another. However, if you take on the mindset of an ambitious creator, you’ll succeed easily by synthesizing execution details with your vision of the overall structure of the solution.

To download a free PDF of Maze Structure or signup to receive a physical copy, go here. I’m hungry for feedback.

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Comments

  1. This is great and awesome blog. Hey, I am so glad to read your thoughts because I really enjoyed reading this. The way you explain your travel experience is truly awesome.

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