“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.” – Unknown
I came across this quote a couple days ago and it got me thinking, especially as I’m doing an annual review of sorts. The quote is helpful as it emphasises that goals and personal development (for want of a better phrase) can be strongly interlinked. Doing one can change the other and vice versa, it’s an evolving system.
There’s a lot of discussion on whether you should even set goals at all of course, whether they are just too confining and mechanical. In practice I guess I go through phases of having a concrete goal and then, almost as a reaction, to being more free-form just to ‘see what happens’. It may not be the most efficient approach but it does allow me to produce as well as to feel like I’m having fun. For instance, I’ve written over 80 posts on this blog this year plus about a quarter more as draft ideas that I decided not to publish plus a load of other book-related material.
For the first time, I’ve also been keeping a personal journal so I can better understand where my time and effort goes. I’ve tried various approaches but the most natural so far seems to be a ‘stream of consciousness’ method where ideas, web links, tasks etc all get captured and noted simply as they occur. I don’t tag or categorise as so far I haven’t found either helpful (I found I spent more time fiddling with my system that actually gaining any benefit from it). That’s probably because the outliner software I’m using (although excellent in it’s own way) doesn’t quite match my work/research flow (see aside below).
Looking through the journal entries for last year, it becomes quickly apparent that I tried to do too many things and conversely, there are an infinite number of interesting thing to try! Thank you internet.
To get good at anything takes time and discipline and to get even better takes even more time and discipline. So you have to make some hard choices on what you’re (mainly) going to focus on. Having some flexibility is important though as it allows for serendipity and the ability to change plans, sometimes in big ways.
However, apart from these generalities, perhaps the biggest insight I got was the importance of key conversations. All the best ideas got going through them, I can even remember each one quite clearly.
A conversation with a friend on something that really interests you, when perhaps you’re feeling a bit fed up or unsure, can be worth it’s weight in gold. A couple of minutes of positive and/or imaginative conversation can easily exceed hours of surfing for inspiration or ideas. You need both but, in hindsight, I spent too much time researching/thinking and not enough conversing! I expect this is fairly common.
Even though I wanted to talk on specialised topics (which I thought would not necessarily be of great interest), I found that:
- People like to help and to feel that they can help (in their own, special individual way).
- Some things are so obvious you need someone else to point them out to you (wood for the trees syndrome). Don’t worry when they’re astounded that you hadn’t realised the blindingly obvious as it usually works both ways.
- Some ideas take ages to incubate, that’s just how it is, so don’t fight it. Friends might be surprised at the apparent lack of progress, but just feel lucky that change is happening at all!
From this, one novel ‘goal’ for 2014 would be to have more conversations with an ever wider group of acquaintances and friends on topics that are important to me.
I’ve never had this as a goal before so it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out. I’ll also write up details of the conversations in my journal, something I don’t usually do.
For a bit more on the role of conversation in business and research, especially the role of knowledge cafes and similar, see here.
Aside on note-taking:
There’s an innovative piece of software that might offer a more natural alignment to my work methods as it is designed to handle emergent structures. It’s mac-only and is called Tinderbox (an exciting new version is just around the corner, Tinderbox 6). One of my goals for 2014 is to get to know this software better.
Independently, the person responsible for Tinderbox, Mark Bernstein, has a really interesting blog – it’s worth a look, he certainly has a wide variety of interests (mainly books, cooking, politics and software)! There’s a good practical overview of the current version of Tinderbox here.