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? rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.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:
- In the Groove
- Under stress, we sometimes make choices that we later regret. And we wonder, "Will I ever learn?"
Fortunately, the problem usually isn't a failure to learn. Changing just takes practice.
- I've Been Right All Along
- As people, we're very good at forming and holding beliefs and opinions despite nagging doubts. These
doubts lead us to search for confirmation of our beliefs, and to reject information that might conflict
with our beliefs. Often, this process causes us to persist in believing nonsense. How can we tell when
this is happening?
- Top 30 Indicators That You Might Be Bored at Work
- Most of the time, when we're bored at work, we know we are. But sometimes, we're bored and we just don't
realize it. Here are some indicators of boredom that might escape some people's notice.
- How We Waste Time: I
- Time is the one workplace resource that's evenly distributed. Everyone gets exactly the same share,
but some use it more wisely than others. Here's Part I of a little catalog of ways we waste time.
- Disjoint Awareness: Assessment
- When collaborators misunderstand each other's work and intentions, they're at risk of inadvertently
interfering with each other. Three causes of misunderstandings are complexity, specialization, and rapid
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.