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 pathfor 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. Top Next Issue
Love 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 welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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.
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.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Diagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
- Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators
are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some
tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.
- Indicators of Lock-In: II
- When a group of decision makers "locks in" on a choice, they can persist in that course even
when others have concluded that the choice is folly. Here's Part II of a set of indicators of lock-in.
- Unnecessary Boring Work: II
- Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from
the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
- Contextual Causes of Conflict: II
- Too often we assume that the causes of destructive conflict lie in the behavior or personalities of
the people directly participating in the conflict. Here's Part II of an exploration of causes that lie
- Getting Value from Involuntary Seminars
- Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations
involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 24: The Stupidity Attribution Error
- In workplace debates, we sometimes conclude erroneously that only stupidity can explain why our debate partners fail to grasp the elegance or importance of our arguments. There are many other possibilities. Available here and by RSS on July 24.
- And on July 31: More Things I've Learned Along the Way: IV
- When I have an important insight, or when I'm taught a lesson, I write it down. Here's Part IV from my personal collection. Available here and by RSS on July 31.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
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
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.