Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Feb 2020

Strategies of Long-Term Goals

Breaking down how an ant eats an elephant

On a current project, a comment was made, “you are playing chess while others are playing checkers.” It continues to stick, in part because there was some truth to it. But, also because in the design space, having an accessible long term goal seems to be the “highly wanted” grail of many once they get to a certain point. Before then, it’s a lot more about being reactive, majoring in the minors, “swimming in the weeds,” and many other apt analogies. Long-term goals, where very small, seemingly insignificant moments accumulate to the eventual reality, is a difficult strategy to grasp. And, perhaps deservedly so, continues to remain the province of “those who figure it out” rather than those who learn.

When it comes to long-term goals, it’s not too difficult to create them. It is harder to achieve them. From our own inclination to finding the paths of lowest energy, to the utter reality that entropy is more normal than order/discipline, being set towards a goal further out is simply just harder. This is why those folks who seem to be persistent/stubborn enough to become successful we laud as heroic. They took some aspect of a reality that was a long way off, and pushed the present out of the way until it became their present.

But how? How does one create a strategy of long term goals, and even achieve them?

First, the goal has to be sharpened. Meaning, it cannot be so esoteric it rings only good in hearing. It has to be sharp enough to persist once the early energies, the honeymoon phase, has worn off.

Secondly, the goal has to have a specific, measurable outcome. Not output, outcome. Specific to the point of even needing to create the thing which measures it. Because that which can be measured, can be communicated. That which can be communicated can be achieved.

Another strategy, it has to be a step beyond realistic. If it’s realistic, then it’s not a long-term goal. It’s hope, and statistically possible. A long term goal needs a prospect of failure. A prospect of being unachievable. And then, it has to still be measurable.

Last how to for long term goal strategies: it should not be easily seen by others. Your steps to achieve need to be small and measured. But, not so large that others see the entire road. Yes, I’m advocating for a bit of secrecy and non-collaboration. You want the benefit of adjustment, readjustment, and discovery alongside this journey. It would be harder to do so when also yolking to others the voice of the vision and it’s outcomes.

It’s in these methods strategies for long-term goals gets its legs. And as the person or team setting forth on such a goal. It allows a full stomach for every bite of the elephant. Right even to the point when he elephant realizes it no longer can move because it too is under the spell of wanting to see you succeed.