CS Lewis very wisely stated: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
I love the wisdom of the quote as it says volumes about the decisions you and I get to make on any given day. Whether leaders, team members, employees, parents, or individuals trying to shape our lives – we have a choice to make decisions that move us forward in our journey. The challenge for many, however, is that as we make those decisions we have a tendency to be facing the wrong way.
For example: ask yourself a very simple question – if you were to take a measurement of something – say the length of your driveway – and you put the end of your tape on a point that indicates the beginning point of your measurement – say your garage door – would it make any sense at all to roll that tape measure out if you did not know where the driveway was supposed to end or what direction it was supposed to go in?
Are you measuring from the garage to the street? Is that where the driveway ends? What point on the street does it go to? Is it a straight line out from the garage door; curve right; curve left?
I know it seems simple yet so many organizations miss this- the endpoint is as critical to our measurement as the start point. As CS Lewis stated – the beginning (and the present) is fixed…the ending however is not so the key is identifying where and what that ending is so that we can make decisions that move us towards it. If our entire strategy is based around moving away (translated forward) from where we were yesterday than we can very well end up in the middle of nowhere tomorrow…wondering how in the world we got there. That’s the challenge with many metrics (whether sales, profits, revenue, employee turnover, conversion rates, etc.) – they are great tools but the data collected from them very often points us in the wrong direction. Progress for the sake of progress is pretty much useless. Progress means we should be moving in a specific direction and getting closer to an expected end over time. It’s not about how far we’ve come – it’s about how far we are from where we need to go and whether we’re on the right path to get there.
That’s the impact of a Point B. Your point B is your vision – it sets your direction, aligns your organization’s objectives, maintains your azimuth, and directs your measurement tools. As opportunities arise or doors open – as markets shift and organizations shuffle – your point B is what keeps you focused moving in a straight line. It helps you answer questions like:
- Is this opportunity right for us – does it align with our core values and our overall direction?
- What hires do we need to make today verses hires we should hold until tomorrow?
- Do our systems accomplish the right things and are we measuring the right things?
- Is this the right investment at the right time?
- Is our focus still centered on our desired market?
Those are questions organizations face every day in this dynamic iVUCA environment yet the answers to those questions have enormous impacts on where we’ll be in the future. For example:
- An opportunity to bring in a boost in revenue may be very tempting in the short term – it helps move us forward from where we are now – but that same opportunity can also draw away resources, attention, and momentum from where we want to be tomorrow. It may not align with our strategic direction.
- Additional hires to carry some of the work-load may be very tempting, and very necessary, in the short term – we need help now if we’re going to keep going forward. But those same hires, if not approached from a wholistic perspective can leave us with a disjointed and expensive patchwork of an organization that then works against us going forward. We can’t scale.
- Systems are needed now to deal with immediate problems or challenges. Yet many of those systems can very easily end up dealing with symptoms of the problems rather than the root cause of the problems. In the long term they evolve our organization into a bureaucratic web of polices or requirements that stifle creativity, discourage initiative, and dampen the overall culture of excellence. The systems end up transitioning from tools to actual goals.
- Short term investments that seem very plausible today have long term consequences when we’re still paying for them tomorrow. Many organizations lose their strategic direction because they’re forced to pay for investments made during different times that are now forcing short-term short-term decisions to pay for them.
- Every day in the world around us our markets shift. Sometimes for short periods, sometimes for longer periods, and sometimes they just go up and down. There is a big difference between being sensitive to market shifts that require change (as part of this iVUCA world) and recognizing market swings that create waves through which the ship must be steered. Good organizations know how to tell the difference and keep their ship going in the right direction – towards the Point B on the horizon.
Those are things, among many, that your Point B helps you navigate. Whether as an individual, a team, a leader, or an organization every one of us needs a Point B that helps us stay focused not on where we were – although that is one important measure – but on where we’re going. Because at the end of the day nobody really get’s anywhere by moving further and further from where they were…we get somewhere by moving closer and closer to where we want to go.
That’s how we build success.
If we return to the driveway example: along the path between our garage door and the endpoint of the street are many obstacles and distractors: there will be some objects that are discretionary, there will be objects that cannot be moved, and there will be some objects that we want to incorporate or take advantage of. The path will need to be laid out; the ground will have to be dug and prepared; decisions will be made as we approach each obstacle in some cases sacrificing current wants to satisfy future needs; gravel and substrates will have to be emplaced; and then finally…at the end – the driveway will be poured. Every one of those steps is deliberate – every one of them requires decisions along the way – and every one of them will ultimately set the conditions for our driveway to be a permanent part of the landscape.
It’s the same for each one of us and for each one of our organizations: every step needs to be deliberate – every step will require decisions – some steps will require sacrifice – and every step should ultimately lay the foundation for the next while setting the conditions for a permanent culture of excellence and sustained performance:
We can leave a hole or we can leave a legacy – the choice is up to us.
I’m excited about this journey and I’m looking forward to sharing some thoughts about defining that Point B in the very near future.