Nineteenth century pioneers in the American West successfully navigated uncertain terrain by using scouts to help them identify and prepare for the many risks and opportunities that were found “just over the horizon.” The scouting process proved to have value because it incorporated the following critical attributes:
- Speed Scouts were instructed to ride out, make observations, and return quickly. If they took too long, their information would be of little use.
- Scatter Usually multiple scouts were used so that a broad area could be covered. This broad spectrum ensured that alternative pathways forward weren't overlooked.
- Sampling Scouts weren't asked to measure, analyze and record a lot of details. Instead, they returned with observations, impressions and images that were qualified by their experience.
- Mapping Scouts mapped the terrain with sufficient detail to give the wagon master the “lay of the land.”
- Decision-enhancing information The ultimate decision on which way to proceed was made by the wagon master, not by the scouts. With input from the scouts, the wagon master was able to make decisions with confidence regarding matters that had consequences far into the future.