Recently, I was listening to this podcast featuring the brilliant marketing and human behavior expert, Rory Sutherland, when the conversation shifted to why it’s always interesting to ride with former race car drivers. The host pointed out that these drivers are some of the safest on earth because they are trained to keep their eyes focused on where they want the car to go knowing their brain will direct their hands to move the steering wheel to get there.
This reminded me of a valuable lesson underscoring the importance of strategic thinking: When the destination is clear, the details of getting there mostly take care of themselves.
As a recovering “take action first” person, I know that too many people start with the details, the actions, the turn-by-turn directions, if you will. But effective strategy tells us that we should start instead with a clear goal, outcome, or end point. Why?
Starting with the goal eliminates the nonessential
Resources are limited. When you know the goal, you use limited time, money, people, and processes with greater clarity because you are more attuned to the opportunity cost of putting them elsewhere.
A clear destination gives you better decision criteria
Have you ever found yourself paralyzed by indecision? Usually, we think we need more time or more information. What we often need is a clearer goal. When the goal is clear, it’s much easier to decide what is useful, relevant, necessary, and so on.
Desired outcomes make short-term sacrifices easier
No one likes giving up something. Our society encourages “what I want when I want it”. A goal that you are truly clear and passionate about, and that you remind yourself of regularly, makes those sacrifices easier. Easy? Maybe not, but easier because you know the result is worth the wait.
Clear goals force focus
Shiny new things are the hallmark of the 21st century. A single-minded commitment to a clear and motivational goal helps us know which shiny new things add value and which are just distractions.
Focusing on the goal allows you to identify and exploit opportunity
When I was young, I watched various sports with my dad. He always pointed out players who were or were not paying attention to where the ball was. Rarely were those who were not watching the ball prepared to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
When I was a music major struggling with some of the technical difficulties of singing, my voice teacher would often stop me and ask, “what are you singing about?” or “what does the text say?”. Every time, without fail, when I knew what I was singing about the physiology fell into place and the technique issues were resolved without dedicated effort.
The same lesson applies to race car drivers, CEOs, and everyone in between. When the destination is clear, getting there takes care of itself.
“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”
-Stephen R. Covey
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