"The pilot who leaves without a flight plan flies directly to the scene of the crash." -Unknown (to me)
Goals are quite possibly one of the most underrated success strategies known to man. Too often we spend our lives so focused on the day-to-day and the minute-to-minute tasks that we forget to take a look around and actually figure out where we want to go.
This aversion to planning may have something to do with our inability to recognize the reality that our world exists largely in a state of chaos. Chaos consists of random and unpredictable events occurring without discernible cause or solutions, yet we confuse the chaos around us with complexity - defined as being intricate and complicated, but not at all disorderly - and convince ourselves that by participating in the action we are achieving something spectacular. As a result, millions of people expend vast amounts of energy trying to find order where none exists.
I have found the process of writing goals to be unexpectedly and extraordinarily difficult (which is, I suppose, another reason so few people undertake the task). Goals that are too short term are either checked off the list so quickly it is as though they never existed, or the deadline arrives well before the goal has had time to fully mature, leading to feelings of failure and abandonment of additional goal setting. Long term goals, I have discovered, sound great during the moment of inspiration in which they are recorded, but, when examined even a day later, rapidly lose their appeal as doubt settles into our minds and we face down the challenge of actually accomplishing the aspiration.
Adding to the long term challenge is the reluctance of nearly everyone else to accept the plan as plausible. I am, by nature, a dreamer. Ideas are fuel for my mind and I have little difficulty visualizing a concept, examining it from all angles, and creating an achievable, albeit distant, target to obtain. Most people, however, often cannot imagine their world in a state much different from what already exists around them, so to propose a plan to achieve something radically different creates feelings of confusion, skepticism, and discomfort at the thought of something unfamiliar. This makes discussing the proposed action plan with another person frustrating, because their advice gravitates towards abandoning the new idea and sticking to what is currently in practice.
Few can deny the reality that goals help provide simple order in the midst of daily chaos. An overwhelming majority of business leaders emphasize the role of setting milestones as a major factor to the long lasting success of their enterprises. In his book Small Giants, Bo Burlingham distills the whole of the American business climate down to fourteen extraordinary companies lead by wildly independent people who are fiercely goal oriented. Consider Zingerman's Community of Businesses located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is guided by an ambitious fifteen year plan that is regularly updated as new aspirations are added and milestones are achieved and checked off. Owners Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened their deli and, after the prerequisite turmoil that accompanies the infant years of a dream, achieved their objective of serving excellent sandwiches relatively quickly. When the business began to stagnate, the two went into crisis mode to rediscover the spark that ignited their dream in the first place. They realized maintaining a goal worth achieving provided incentive for creativity and kept employees pulling in the same direction. Knowing a short-term solution would once again lead to stagnation, Ari set about to envision a destination distant enough to keep the team busy for over a decade. The strategy has worked well, and Zingerman's has become a landmark destination in Ann Arbor as a result.
Those of us who do not possess a lifetime of experience in the goal setting arena may find a fifteen year plan to be so audacious that, though plenty of thought goes into the issue, we become overwhelmed and eventually abandon the project. As is the case with any new routine, the learning process must occur in stages to accommodate the skill level of the student. Rather than jumping to a lofty Zingerman’s style fifteen year plan right off the bat, I have found an approach promoted by marketing guru Steve Wayhart to be more comprehensible. He calls it the 3-1-Q plan, and it is structured as follows:
3 Years: Big Picture
1 Year: Working On It
Q: Quarterly Plan
By reducing the number of years involved and, as a result, the scope of the vision that is necessary, I have found this structure to be far more manageable while I’m thinking. Three years is far enough out to provide time to set some lofty objectives, and the quarterly plans span a short enough timeframe to accompany immediate action, which is less abstract and, therefore, more gratifying.
Whether you are opening a new business, strategizing at work, or simply seeking a way to find some direction in your life, goals are a wonderful way to find a compass bearing towards your future. Don’t be discouraged when people credit the unpredictability of tomorrow as a reason to avoid a strategy for the future; while they’re going about their typical day awaiting the next catastrophe, you will be making some serious headway towards a future very few others can imagine.