(Or, how to think about strategy)
Trying to get things done and pursuing a long-term goal can be daunting. You are aiming at an eventuality that is still quite far off. You have a sense of where you are going but don’t know quite know how to get there.
You see the mountain top, the main goal you are trying to accomplish, but you are still far off. You have started by doing it badly, but that’s just step one of hundreds of steps to get there.
Is there a way of thinking, a way of acting, that allows the actions we take to build on each other, to gain momentum, and build into a giant snowball racing furiously to our destination?
I think there is, and it’s a combination of strategic thinking and aiming for the domino effect.
Usually people’s efforts are haphazard, they are busy tied up doing a thousand and one things, but none of it is proactive, they are simply reacting to their environment. They end up expending energy in numerous directions, and achieving relatively little, running and running but staying in the same place.
But imagine if you could reduce or at least hone your efforts so they all work together to provide better results faster, building on each other to move you to the new place you desire.
That is the idea of strategy. Of achieving superior results with the same level of activity but just better directed. This is essentialism, this is the one thing, this is make less, work more.
Good strategy takes a look at the facts as they are. What are you really trying to achieve, what are the real problems in your way, what can you tackle and solve, in what order do you tackle them and what cohesive set of actions will you take to get there?
The domino effect is illustrated in the book ‘The One Thing’. Gary talks about lining up your dominoes. Each domino is an action or a mini goal. You place your goals in the right order, knowing what the one thing that would make everything else easier or move you closer towards your goal. You line that one thing up so that doing it will knock down the next thing that would make everything easier or move you closer to your goal. And so on and so forth.
Overtime, domino hits domino, and you build momentum with the energy growing and transferring with each action and toppled target.
For this to work, you need to have a sense of the interconnectedness of things between where you are now and where you are going. And you have to respect the order in which you are doing them. If you tackle the wrong domino, you will have wasted effort and need to double back to fix it.
It is like the designer or client that so eager to jump into the aesthetic design of a product without tackling the domino of strategy – who is it for, what do they need, why should they care. Or the fitness chaser running around in the gym without sorting out her nutrition first. Or worse still, a builder crafting the most gorgeous building without setting a proper foundation first.
You must strive to tackle your dominoes in the right order. In that way, each step you take would improve your odds of success.
When you let your moves stack on each other, each action creates a result that becomes the seed of the next action. So, with my business for instance, taking the time out to clarify a service offering – brand, design, digital – makes it easier for me to communicate and sell services. Taking time to define work processes for each service, makes it easier for me to work and replicate the process with clients. The design process includes me making mockups and prepping the products to look a certain way, which makes it easier down the line to showcase work done on the website, which then act as case studies and feed into content, which then feeds to sales and more work and growth for the company.
In that way, each move is made to make the subsequent moves easier, and the results of each move serve as the beginning of the next move.
To accomplish this, you have to be able to hold a vision of a desired result or situation, and then hazard a guess, a hypothesis of the possible ways forward, and then track a path that will lead you eventually to said goal.
Making your moves stack on each other can be weird territory. When you start, you don’t know anything, you are exploring options and looking for something that resonates, that grips your attention. And then you find it, and you keep working on it, you start to garner some recognition, some attention. Your moves start to give you a position that you can leverage to the next thing.
Sometimes it is easy enough, you can track your path fairly clearly, you have a good enough idea of what is needed, and the conditions are stable. Sometimes it is much harder than that, because the fog is thick, and conditions are constantly changing. You may not be able to identify all the dominoes, but you can work to increase your odds of success.
This is where you have to be woke to what you are trying to achieve and look for opportunities to move closer to that. Sometimes, you need to side step and tackle things obliquely. Sometimes it might even mean slowing down on the thing that has gotten you here, so that you can invest in the thing that will take you there.
But keep this idea in mind, hold a long-term view of your vision, connect the dots backwards and let each action become a stepping stone, and each lesson another arrow in your quiver, your moves will build and propel you to your destiny.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is start.
Especially when you are trying to chase the dream, do something you have never done before, create something new. There is that initial feeling of ‘ugh, I don’t even know where to begin?’
Coupled with the weight of expectation, the desire for perfection or the right working conditions, it is very easy to never start. But there is a simple antidote to this problem of inertia.
Start by doing it badly.
The creative process works in exactly this way. The first strokes on the canvas, the first words on the page, the initial snippets of code…are always rough drafts. They are never perfect. But they are where we begin. It is very seldom that I am hit with a flash of inspiration and I’m able to sit down and crank the whole thing out in one sitting. It does happen, every once in a blue moon, but that’s usually not the case. And for something like that to happen, I am usually already in a primed state. I have been writing or creating for extended periods of time and I am in complete flow.
Instead, it is really just the act of just sitting in front of the blank screen, the empty canvas and feeling a bit intimidated. All you have to work with is the urge, the spark, the vague idea, the nebulous potential of what you want to create. And that is where you must start, somehow to make all of that concrete.
My blog posts begin as drafts in my notebook app. Just a few lines, or paragraphs if I’m lucky, outlining the core of what I want to say. It is rough, riddled with errors and sometimes incomplete and slightly incoherent. But it captures the core idea. It gives me something to work with. Instead of the blank page, now I have some words, I have some ideas, I have the pieces. Imperfect pieces sure, but nonetheless, something to work with, something to shape and manipulate, to cut out from or to add to. It is still a long way until it is finally done, but at least with the drafts, the process has begun.
If you want to get what you want, you must be able to get important things done. And to get important things done, you have to be able to start.
But ‘what if you fail?’ That is one great fear that can keep us from starting. It’s not just the pressure of perfection now, it is the fear of failure. Let go of that fear. You are definitely going to make mistakes. You are definitely going to fail first. Of course, you will, you don’t know what you are doing. You are not very good at this yet. But you are moving, you are not standing still. You are transforming your potential into actual reality. Your first steps are not great, but they offer learning opportunities that move you forward.
Allow yourself the luxury of doing things badly the first few times. You don’t have to be perfect. If you fail, it won’t be a train smash. Just start. There will plenty of time down the road to correct, refine and make it great.
Now, when you begin a project or a journey towards a goal, you start off with an ideal in mind, a mental picture of what you want to achieve. Let’s call it your ‘star’. As you move towards it, it also moves. Your initial vision or goal was based on your perception before you started. But, as you do things, you learn, you get feedback. Your actions create results, and in turn, they teach you, they change you. As you act and move, your vision evolves. Your star moves as you move towards it.
And I find that interesting. As you grow, your vision grows with you. You never know where this path will ultimately take you. So even your goal can be imperfect. You can have a target right now and hold an idea of where you are going, but you can’t really say for sure that you will end up there. You start off trying to make a couple home computers for the electronics store on the corner and then decades later, end up with one of the biggest brands in the world (Apple). Taking hold of a vision and following your star will lead you down some interesting roads and bring you to unimaginable destinations.
I personally have been chasing this dream of being a designer and building a studio for a while now. Fresh out of university years ago, I read Computer Arts Magazines a lot and decided I was going to have a design studio like the ones I saw in there. And into that dream was woven other ideas and things I want to do all revolving around being creative, making art, exploring ideas and creating interventions that provoke thought and instigate action.
From being a freelancer to working on teams, that dream has evolved over time to cover branding, and strategy and products and business. These things are revealed to me over time, only as I walk the path. The vision gets deeper, more layered, more defined, the same ultimately, but different at particular points in the journey.
And as I think back, I can trace my path through construction and architecture, to performance, to being drawn in by the conceptual and the digital, to loving graphic design and pursuing that and over time combining all these other ideas and interests into my present pursuit of branding, design and entrepreneurship.
The vision is a bit different now, but I would not have gotten to this point without following my star, even as I morphed and changed, my star has morphed and changed and moved.
So, it’s okay to start badly. With little skill and bad aim. Because, what is the alternative? Stand still? Do nothing? The time passes anyway. And if you are standing still, you are really moving backwards. That is not something you can afford.
So, think about the things you know you need to start. Whatever that might be – a new habit, a project, a business, a relationship, whatever endeavor. Start it. Start it badly. It is okay to suck at first but start.
However imperfectly, take that first step. Follow your star.
I’ve been watching a lot of Jordan Peterson videos over the past two weeks and this post was inspired by a video by the same name of one of his lectures. It is worth a watch.
Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece called ‘How to get important things done’ in which I gleaned and presented lessons and principles from relaunching my business site.
I had been previously frustrated by the fact that I always had these interesting ideas but never had the time or focus or discipline to work on them until they were finished and ready to ship. Eventually, I was able to break the cycle by working on and launching my business site in the midst of the general chaos of life and work. I have already reworked the design and content of said site, and there is a whole new version with new additions in the works.
That’s something I find interesting, as I learn more and understand more, the website has to shift and evolve over time to reflect that. So just after one iteration is done and published, the next one begins. But that is life, some things never finish, you just keep tinkering and making it better.
Over the past year, I have grown better at getting things done, in addition to the aforementioned iterations to the business site, I have revamped my personal brand and website, and that only took about a month compared to the 6 months it took me to do the business site. I have also built a framework on which hang multiple personal projects that I am working on, and so far, I seem to be making progress on most of them.
In this post, I share 3 principles and ideas I keep in mind as I try to push these projects and get them done while juggling work projects, life and relationships.
This is a rehash of an idea I spoke about in the previous post. If you want to get things done, you have to commit, and you have to sacrifice something else usually, to allow you to commit. There is no creative wall, there is no mental block, there is nothing standing between you and the work. You just have to set aside the time and sit down and do the work. That is the nature of getting things done, embracing the grind. If you just have one project you are trying to get done, all you have to do is focus, put in the hours and get it done. If you have multiple projects like me, this is more like a lifestyle, you are almost always working on something. Like getting and staying healthy, the idea is not just about bursts of activity and action. It is a commitment to a daily or weekly practice of putting bum to seat and slugging through the work.
You cannot fall asleep at the wheel, you have to stay awake to your goals and what you are trying to accomplish. A lot of things happen, a lot of things vie for our attention. We have work to do, families to feed, careers to attend to, people to take care of. There is always something. And it is easy, incredibly easy to drift. All it takes is a week or two of relentless pressure and distraction and you can be cast adrift for months.
So, you have to stay awake. If our projects are a priority we must remind ourselves of them continually. That is why I created a device to help me remember and stay focused. I retrofitted my year diary to become a reminder of the value I provide, my ultimate aims and the main projects I am concerned with for the year. Thinking about things in the context of 12 months allows me to carve out each part of year accordingly and know if I am on track or not. It is long enough to allow me to put in proper work, but also short enough so I can actually close and end projects quickly.
Death by a thousand strokes
Some of the things you want to accomplish are big projects. They are not the sort of thing you can knock out in an afternoon. You need time. Especially as a creative. We require huge swatches of time, blocks of time to really dig in, focus and create. Time to get bored. Time to think. Time to research and to absorb. Time to create. Many times, you can only get these pockets of uninterrupted time in 30-minute increments, sometimes we are able to block out whole days. But whatever you have, make the best of each opportunity.
I have open projects all the time. I could steal 30 mins in-between client work to read over a portion of my book and make edits. I could repurpose the hour break I’m taking watching a show to also collect visual reference material for another project. The idea is that these projects are not usually tackled in one fell swoop from start to finish, but are approached bite by bite, piece by piece, brick by brick. This frees us up to not to be too anxious, but to take our time, working and revising, working and revising, learning, making false starts and starting again. In this way, our masterpiece emerges by a thousand strokes made over time.
Getting important things done when they are not directly tied to your job or anchored in societal norms and expectations can be almost impossible. There is just generally a lot that gets in the way, and that is how too many of us die with our song unsung. The unique creative thing you were meant to contribute to the rich tapestry of life, for better or worse.
But crack the code, and be able to conceive a project, and see it to the end, for yourself, to your ends, not because someone told you so. That ability is extremely powerful and important in navigating an uncertain future and becoming antifragile. It shows initiative, it shows power. And even though you will inadvertently fail time and time again, if you stay the course and stay focused, eventually you will win, you will get what you want.
Having a written set of goals is not enough, you have to take action and then systematically measure your progress – Michael Hyatt
There is the idea (and I am bastardizing it here) that on a quantum level, things do not ‘exist’ until they are measured. Until you actually view light for instance, and depending on how it is measured, it will either exist as a wave or as a particle. Every atom is in a state of uncertainty, it is either there or not until you observe it, sort of like Schrödinger’s cat. Or something like that.
There is something else that does not really ‘exist’ until it is measured or observed. That is your goals and your dreams. The more attention you pay to your goals and dreams, the more you look at them and measure them, the more defined they become, the faster they come true. This is part of the reason why having a vision board works. It pays to keep the target before your eyes at all times.
A big dream killer is being vague. I know all about being vague, it is one of my favorite things. Vagueness is a comfortable nebulous zone where the potentiality is sky high, and you can be anything, you can be the greatest or you can be utterly crap, but you haven’t ‘been’ yet so it’s easy to revel in the idea of what you are going to do, instead of actually doing it. It is nice to wallow in the primordial soup of uncertainty.
But nothing exists, until it is made real. Nothing exists until it is born concretely. And that is where the fear lies. The fear of the irrevocable first step, a first step or an entire journey that could end up being less than perfect. The commitment to a dream, to a path. The forsaking of others. The burning of the ships, the tying yourself to the mast. Going all in, etc. All that can be scary.
But your dreams and goals must move from being vague to being defined and definite. It is easy to have aspirations, to want something to change. But for real progress to be made, the goals have to be defined, the metrics have to be clear. It is not enough to say you want to make more money, say exactly how much money you want to make and by when. Break your goals down to numbers that you can measure and aim for. Now there is accountability. Now there is a target, now there is a deadline. Now you can focus all your energy and make sure you hit them. You need a goal that can focus your faculties and provide you with the necessary direction, motivation and limitations to achieve it.
I have spoken about why you should build systems as opposed to setting goals. The concept that you should systemize the steps and daily actions you need to take to achieve what you want. This is very useful when you are starting out because you are still getting used to forming new habits and embodying a new vibration. You are not too concerned with hitting specific targets, you are just trying to get into the general ballpark of taking regular action towards those goals. While this idea builds our capacity and habits over time; to really squeeze the juice out of this process, you must take it to the next level by having discrete and clear targets to hold yourself accountable to. This is where you turn pro.
You have to know what your numbers are. They could be a once-off hit, like run a total of 20 000 miles in a year, or a streak, like blog once a week, every week for a whole year. They could be numbers to hit in the gym, an income target to reach in 6 months. It could be a new skill, being able to start and finish a project that you could not undertake before. In any case, you need a goal, you need a target to hit, and you need a way to measure your progress.
It is easy to fool ourselves and think we are doing work towards our goals. Once we start to look at the numbers for real though, we often see a different picture.
So how do we put this into practice? There are many ways to do this depending on your temperament and the nature of your goals. But I think it would generally look like this.
1. Define what success looks like
For every project, you have to define what success is. How do you know when you have won? For instance, I am working on a book now, and my time limit is 3 months, so by end of June I should be done. What does ‘done’ mean to me? It means I have taken the idea, put together all the material needed, as well as written and reworked and polished the manuscript to my personal satisfaction. At the end of June, I should have a book in Word that reads cohesively from start to finish.
That is a finite project, it has a beginning and an end. But what about projects with a reoccurring component? For my blog for example, success to me is maintaining a certain editorial schedule. And it is based on a scale. The absolute minimum is the once a week posts which I’ve been doing so far, and the higher limit is a schedule that sees me posting about 3 times a week. So, I know I am doing the minimum, but I have plenty room to improve.
2. Determine what it would take to achieve success
What gets measured, gets managed – Peter Drucker
Once you know what success looks like for your goals? You have to break it down further, looking at your schedule and how you spend your time and figure out what your daily or weekly actions must be to get you to that goal. For project-based goals like ‘writing a book’, it can mean drafting an execution road map for the project. It could play out like this – come up with book concept/idea, craft the book outline, collect all research and articles needed, write the book, edit the book (3 passes), design the book cover, design the book layout, create pdf file, upload, share.
Now I have a clear path to follow to reach this goal and I can set time frames for each section.
Another thing I would do, is break my goals down to daily or weekly activities I can do. For example, I can decide to work on my book for an hour every day, preferably first thing in the morning. I can round that off with 4 hours of dedicated time every weekend to really push forward on the project. This also gives me something to track and be accountable to in addition to the execution road map.
3. Be accountable
Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t – Jay Z (Reminder, The Blueprint 3)
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. To make steady progress towards the goal of having a book done by June, I would need to be constantly taking steady action. Every day I wake up, I know where I am on that roadmap and what I need to do next. At the end of every day I know if I spent an hour working on my book or not. I can track that. The more important the goal is, the more important it is to track and review my efforts.
Now life is chaotic sometimes. Shit happen, things throw us off course. I could decide in the middle of the project, that this is crap and I actually don’t want to write a book. I could get busy with other projects and need to focus on those instead. But regularly I have the chance to review my work and my numbers and see if I need to adjust my plan to new realities or scrap the project all together. But at least, I have the numbers to back it up. I have a real frame of reference.
Measuring and tracking performance is not easy. It takes discipline and a commitment to the process. It is much easier to be vague and just play at it. But if you really trying to get what you want, embracing this idea will take you further faster than you could imagine.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m incredibly great at being vague. I’ll put off making a decision to the very last moment, and I’m not great at tracking the time I spend on client projects talk less of the moves I make towards my goals. But I recognize that being more aware of my metrics could have some value, hence this post, which is a stern lecture to myself as much as it is an exhortation to you.
So, do you have any tactics or frameworks you use to chart your progress? It could be health, exercise, finances, learning, projects, anything! Do share, I would love to learn from you.
When you absolutely must get things done.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, two books I read in 2016 really changed my approach to life, and my work. They represent two concepts that work together to provide a powerful one – two punch combo that supercharges your ability to get things done.
The first book was “The One Thing” which I have written about. The One Thing offers the idea that only one thing really matters above all. On the macro level, there is the One thing you choose to make your life all about. In the day to day, there is the One Thing you could do that would make other things easier or unnecessary. It’s all about defining your vision and lining up your dominoes and whacking away at the first one until it falls and topples the next one with topples the next one and so on.
The second book is Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Deep work is the ability to focus on a hard task, to really concentrate for a long enough period of time. According to Newport, it is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare in a world filled with easy to access distraction. It is also a skill that is becoming incredibly important and useful in a networked world that needs you to learn skills quickly to thrive, and that allows you to affect millions with just your phone. We are too distracted at our work or at our businesses to give the right amount of effort and focus on the key tasks or projects that would make a definite difference. Doubly so for creatives or knowledge workers who need to expend considerable mental effort to produce good work.
There is a feature of the iPhone (and most other phones I would imagine, I’m hopelessly lost to the Apple hype train) that is irrefutably the best feature of the phone. It is not the above average camera (Samsung kicks its ass in my opinion), it’s not the design and how sleek it looks, it’s not the fact that it makes me look cool when I whip it out. It is the airplane mode function. With a swipe and a tap, I can turn the device from a portal to the infinite distraction machine that is the internet into a shiny paperweight.
Deep Work is the reason my phone is on airplane mode at least 50% of the time. This book is the reason I am many times unreachable, much to the chagrin of my friends and clients (I am so sorry guys but let me explain). It is also the reason I have been able to work on my business and my brand consistently over the past 18 months. It is the reason my design work has gotten stronger, the reason I’m learning faster and the reason my general productivity (the ability to get things done) has doubled or maybe even tripled.
It is also the reason I am less stressed and haven’t tried to hug a kitchen knife.
You see, regardless of how urgent and pressing everything feels, ultimately only a few things really matter. Out of the 100 or so different things you do or get asked to do today, probably none of them actually move you forward in any meaningful way towards a better life or better experience in 5 years. But if we know where we want to go, we can focus on the things that matter and move intentionally towards our BHAGs.
When you combine those two ideas, you are able to focus on what is most important and devote the kind of time and attention that it deserves. It is doing Deep Work on your One Thing.
In the midst of life’s noise, you can take the time to figure out what you want, count the cost, define the key activities and line up the dominoes. Now is the time to cultivate empty space, to block out some time that you can pay attention to the things that really matter. To learn the new skill, to work on the new business idea, to make some art, or simply to give back or build relationships. This is the time for Deep Work.
If I get anything done, and get it done well, or even quickly, my first step is always to switch the phone off. None of that ‘I’ll just put it face down’, that doesn’t work. Psychically I’m still attached, I’m still wondering about who’s trying to get in touch with me. It has to be off, and then finally I feel shut off from the world enough to allow my ideas and creative energy to bubble up to the surface.
Give it a try. If it’s too hard, put your phone in the drawer or the laundry basket or wherever. Just practice being cut off from your phone. See what that does for what you are working on.
When last did you give your full attention to a task? It feels very tempting to multitask. The pleasure of scrolling through our Instagram feeds, or losing hours of time to YouTube is very compelling and addictive. But if you are to get things done, if you are to move steadily to that BHAG, its very useful to learn how to switch off.
Even if it is just to think. From the moment we wake up, notice how we are mentally highjacked by our feeds. My first impulse when I wake up is to check my messages. First Whatsapp, then the Inbox, then Twitter (never Instagram until I’m mentally ready for that kind of mental and emotional assault). And just like that, my day can get highjacked by the needs and demands for others. Live like this enough days in a row and soon you are swept up in a fog of distraction, mediocrity and dissatisfaction. We all need space to think, to connect with ourselves, to heal, to spend some time in reflection or in the quiet pursuit of an interest or a craft.
The ability to go deep, both in your craft, in work and in your life will produce many benefits. It is a required resource in the marathon of pursuing your BHAG and cultivating a happy life. If you can isolate your main thing, and steadily devote time to it, you will stop feeling listless and more focused. And as you get better at it, that momentum of actually doing things will propel you to do some incredible things.
Last week I wrote about goals, covering the idea that we need Big Hairy Audacious Goals, because they have the potential to help us evolve to greater versions of ourselves. Combining that with smaller ‘checkpoint’ goals keep us on track, steadily stretching and progressing towards the BHAG. But beyond goals as we understand them, systems are an underrated tool and approach that work even better than just goals.
The power of a goal is readily compelling. It is the shining beacon that calls out to us, it is the big thing we want to achieve. And so usually we set it and then we hack away at it every day, or whenever we remember, trying things, failing, learning and trying again until we finally get there. This typical process requires a great deal of willpower, motivation and drive to get started and keep things moving.
Systems make things easier, and I’m going to unpack how. Like I mentioned last week, this is directly inspired by Scott Adam’s idea that “Systems are better than goals’ as expressed in his book. Check it out, it’s a great read and explains the idea in a fantastic way.
The idea of ‘Systems > Goals’ strikes a chord with me because it dovetails nicely with things I have blogged about before like ‘trust the process’, and ‘making time work for you’. It is understanding the incredible power of compound effect and leveraging that in your favor. There is a reason why the most prolific artists and creators of all time swear by some sort of system or routine. Routines free up energy to be creative where it counts, doing the actual work. Systems provide the framework to achieve greatness over time.
Using systems to achieve your goal
Everything we eventually become are the sum of the decisions we make and the actions we take in the day to day. The habits we pick up or develop become stronger every time until they become our default settings. If you can control that process and make sure your habits are the right ones, it becomes that much easier to attain success.
The systems approach works backwards by looking at the thing you want to achieve and reverse engineering the conditions needed to eventually get there. A simple example would be the goal to get to a certain level of fitness, or to get a certain body weight. We can guess that the key things needed for this to happen would be eating right, exercising right, and rest. The systems approach takes these elements and grafts them into your life in such a way that is tailor made to your strengths. You take those steps and turn them into habits by hooking them up to trigger moments in your day.
Quite simply, break down your goals to the actions that would take you there and then make it easy to regularly take those steps.
You could deploy strategies like doing meal prep on the weekends, boxing up each meal for the week separately. Now you don’t have to think about what to eat ever. You decided over the weekend. You simply pick the box you need, warm it up and eat when you need it. You could begin a lunch time or pre-bed ritual, spending 30mins stretching and doing body weight exercises before you go to bed. If you successfully executed these two relatively simple habits daily and weekly, you would be eating right and getting regular exercise. The habits get easier to maintain the more you do them and the effects compound over time. Once the habit is on autopilot you can tweak things to keep them interesting or more efficient. Like tweaking the exact foods you eat or doing more intense training.
If your goal is to read more books let’s say 40 books in the next 12 months. You could approach this goal haphazardly, reading whenever you remembered or had a book handy, or you could bake reading into your day-to-day life. You could simply commit to reading for 30mins every single day first thing in the morning, or you could decide to use your commute to work to listen to audio books. With a daily habit like that it becomes easier to hit that goal.
Systems require a considerable investment upfront to set up. It can be long and arduous work. But once they are running, systems save you time and energy. As they hum along, they make it easy, almost effortless to achieve your goals.
Using systems to improve your odds.
So far we have looked at simple goals, the kind that fall under the ‘checkpoint’ category. Could a systems approach be beneficial when tackling the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal?
The Big Goals generally do not have a clear roadmap to achieving them. They are the sort of goals that take a long time of work and learning to eventually achieve. They also tend to require a large degree of luck. Being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right people can play a huge role in what manner of success and experience you have. How do we get luckier?
We deploy a system to optimize for the odds. Simply put, we work to make it more likely that we can achieve the goal. That is the general idea behind formal schooling. You go to school, work hard, and get good grades in an area of high demand to increase the odds that you will get a good job.
Take a look at the things you want to get done. If you want to do cool, experimental events and be known for it or even paid for it. Then you have to do research into the area and see who else is doing that sort of thing. Who pays for that kind of stuff? Brands? Maybe look at the few events companies that specialize in out-the-box events and offer to intern with them for free. Make prototype experiences and document them. Choose to do the things that would increase the odds that you would be able to do the work that you want to do.
If you want to create a successful start-up, then you have to work out a system to increase your odds of success. What do you need to succeed? A good product or service, a large and growing customer base, ability to deploy and scale. There are a thousand moving parts and factors that affect your success. But imagine what the long-term outcome would be if you had a system for learning more about business every day. Maybe every weekend, you brainstormed and built a landing page for an idea and put it out there. 52 weeks down the line, one of them catches off and gains incredible traction. The idea is that every day or every week you increased your odds by learning, making stuff, putting it out there at low risk, watching it fail and then improving it the next time.
See how taking a systems approach makes everything easier. Sure, it takes some time to get used to and build new habits, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make. Your key job becomes making the system even better and more effective over time.
Systems thinking is a powerful framework to use in approaching your goals. If you used this way of thinking to go after your checkpoint goals and used it to improve the odds of success on your Big Hairy Audacious Goal, you will be leveraging the power of process and the compound power of time to create something incredibly remarkable.
And eventually you will win.