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Journeys, destinations, and other adventures

Joe Benesh is a Senior Architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

One of the most familiar tag lines out there is that success is a journey, not a destination. I usually try and steer clear of tag lines, except when I feel they truly do capture an important point efficiently. In a previous blog, we explored the differences between strategies and tactics. In this blog, I’d like to talk a little about the third part of the strategy ecosystem: goals.

Goals are the most challenging thing faced by any facilitator. In theory, they are the destination statement. This organization will do “X”. But that question can and should be more complicated than that. Keeping in mind the distinction between strategies, tactics, and goals, I would like to expand our definition of what a goal truly is within the context of success metrics.

Managing a team creatively often involves being a bit less clear about what the end result should be. A proximal goal is one that I feel is more journey-based – “do your best work” or “invent something new”. Those are goals to be sure, but the emphasis is on what happens in getting there - the innovation – rather than the end point.

This is a valuable argument in favor of the 20 percent time used by aerospace industries during the space age of the 1960s, which is still in use today at many software companies. This "free" time has produced products ranging from magnetic space boots to Gmail. Those inventions were not set as goals; they came as a result of an innovative process that was put in place.

But it’s not fair to completely discount the end result. The process must lead somewhere and it’s not always fair to put so much pressure on process. Sometimes clearly established goals can also lead to innovative thought. As someone who really enjoys movies, I’ve always found movies like “All Is Lost” and “Apollo 13” interesting in the context of how a clearly distal goal - in those cases the goal being survival – creates a de facto state of innovation to reach that goal. Necessity is the mother of invention in practice.

Distal and proximal goals are different things and depend on the situation and circumstances, but both are important parts of organizational growth. Organizations or groups can also use combinations of these types of goals to better define the other. Setting a proximal goal can help form a distal goal more clearly, and the reverse is true. Both are different tools for different outcomes.

Proximal goals, when used in helping formulate distal goals are generally more effective in establishing process-based or qualitative criteria, whereas distal goals, when used to clarify proximal goals, will tend to focus more on quantitative outcomes. In both instances, you can see that success is defined by the journey and the destination. In fact, how you define the journey and how you define the destination is at the very core of how you can define what success looks like for your organization.

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