Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 18, Issue 46;   November 14, 2018: The Goal Is Not the Path

The Goal Is Not the Path

by

Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
A forest path

A forest path. Some paths are poorly marked and a little daunting. That's a good thing. It means that a lot of other people might have already turned back.

When we aspire to ambitious goals, we risk confusing the goal with the path to achieving it. Here's how it goes — sometimes. We consider the goal and ask ourselves, "Now how do we accomplish that?" We generate some ideas, and if the goal is really ambitious, we often fail to see how to get there immediately. So we adjust the goal and try again. Finally, after several iterations, we succeed in finding a goal that we believe we can reach. Unfortunately, these reachable goals are rarely ambitious. They're practical, they're achievable, they're disappointing, and they're hardly worth the effort of achieving them.

What has gone wrong here? We've allowed ourselves to engage in a search whose objective was to find a path to A Goal, instead of a path to Our Goal. That search simply had the wrong objective.

In effect, the objective of our search was not to find a path to achieving our original goal; rather, the objective of our search was to find a goal that lay on a path we already knew how to travel. But often, ambitious goals lie only on paths we don't yet know how to travel.

As long as we stick to paths we already know how to travel, the goals we can reach are unlikely to be ambitious. To ensure that we find a path to our original, ambitious goal, or to some other goal equally ambitious, consider these guidelines.

The path we need to find will look impossible
If you're looking for a path that's clearly possible, you're looking for the wrong path. An ambitious goal is ambitious because nobody has achieved it yet. If a passable path to that goal were obvious, someone would probably have achieved that goal already.
The path you're looking If you're looking for
a path that's clearly
possible, you're looking
for the wrong path
for is one that looks impossible, and which has obstacles you don't yet know how to circumvent. But you believe you can avoid those obstacles or find ways around or through them.
Some new ideas will be required
Because the path is now impassable, to reach your ambitious goal you'll have to do something that's never been done before — or at least, something you've never done before. If you're considering a path that doesn't require cleverness or innovation, you might be considering a wrong path, or perhaps a less-than-ambitious goal.
Ambitious goals lie in the domain of innovators. If you're unwilling, unable, or not permitted to innovate, you probably can't achieve ambitious goals.
We'll inevitably make mistakes and experience setbacks
At the outset, the path to an ambitious goal is unknown. You pick a path that looks promising, but you have no real assurance that it will lead you to the goal. It might have branches and obstacles, and it's up to you to take the right branches and find your way around the obstacles. All of us inevitably make mistakes and take wrong turns.
When you do run into trouble, you need reserves and support. You might have to make some repairs, or backtrack and take different turns or branches. That's expected. The people who support you must understand this.
Doubters will claim that what you're doing is hopeless or wrong-headed
If the goal is ambitious enough, you'll find doubters — or rather, they'll find you. For many doubters, your success would be proof of their failure, for whatever reason, to pursue the same ambitious goal you're pursuing. For many doubters, fear and shame are the motivators.
Their doubts are their problem, not yours. Your problem is finding a path to your goal.

Most important, know what to do — and what not to do — when the path you're on is impassable. What not to do: adjust your goal. What to do: set a new goal that will get you a little closer to your original goal, and find a path to that intermediate goal. This can feel at first like failure or compromise. That's a feeling; honor it. But achieving that intermediate goal is definite progress. It sets the baseline a little closer to the ultimate goal. Go to that baseline, and see what you can see from there. You might find a new way forward. Go to top Top  Next issue: Make Suggestions Privately  Next Issue

Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunLove the work but not the job? Bad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? This ebook looks at what we can do to get more out of life at work. It helps you get moving again! Read Go For It! Sometimes It's Easier If You Run, filled with tips and techniques for putting zing into your work life. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenIWjJxbScBcTgpoynner@ChacbkjbctDyrQohDjAooCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Horses in a corralCorrales Mentales
Perhaps you've achieved every goal you've ever set yourself, but if you're like most of us, some important goals have remained elusive. Maybe you had bad luck, or you weren't in the right place at the right time. But it's just possible that you got in your own way. Getting out of your own way can help make things happen.
Answering machine controlsAt the Sound of the Tone, Hang Up
When the phone rings, do you drop whatever you're doing to answer it? Do you interrupt face-to-face conversations with live people to respond to the jerk of your cellular leash? Listen to seemingly endless queues of voicemail messages? Here are some reminders of the choices we sometimes forget we have.
FedEx logoFedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference
Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.
Secretary Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush, and Administrator Michael BrownWhen Stress Strikes
Most of what we know about person-to-person communication applies when levels of stress are low. But when stress is high, as it is in emergencies, we're more likely to make mistakes. Knowing those mistakes in advance can be helpful in avoiding them.
Eastern Redcedar in crossection, with white sapwood on the outside edges, and red to deep reddish-brown heartwoodThe Retrospective Funding Problem
If your organization regularly conducts project retrospectives, you're among the very fortunate. Many organizations don't. But even among those that do, retrospectives are often underfunded, conducted by amateurs, or too short. Often, key people "couldn't make it." We can do better than this. What's stopping us?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Problem Solving and Creativity for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Thomas Paine, considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United StatesComing December 12: Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
Shared information bias is widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But over time, it can erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality and the group's perceptions of reality. Available here and by RSS on December 12.
Feeling shameAnd on December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhgwJACQBxPMBNyRpner@ChacSyUkNHpRmreDRuhnoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.