You can’t always get what you want. But you reap what you sow

It seems like all artists already know it: you can’t always get what you want. Just wanting it more doesn’t work. Neither does positive thinking — just saying to yourself that everything will work out exactly the way you want it won’t do the trick. What we get is a combination of luck, faith, effort, external circumstances and your own attitude. Because that part is true. What you focus on does influence what comes out. So, how are we doing on that focus?

In the average organization we tend to focus on correcting mistakes. In school, we test kids and provide tutoring to make sure they don’t get any D’s or worse. In politics (perhaps now more than ever) we focus on what went wrong and how people make up for it — be it Benghazi emails, discriminatory quotes or a multimillion dollar project going over budget and over time. In business, we hire consultants to do in-depth research on what caused the mistake. And all the time, everyone is focusing on what is going wrong. So, what do you get? People know exactly what they should not do, but don’t necessarily have any clue about what they should do. Imagine a basketball player with ball possession. Last seconds are ticking away, the pressure is mounting as his team is only one point behind. Imagine his coach always helped him to focus on what went wrong in the past and he starts repeating to himself: “don’t overshoot, don’t overshoot”. Not really helpful, don’t you think? Actually, quite distracting.

So, why don’t we sow what we want to reap? Of course, it’s good to know what mistakes to avoid. But make sure that most of the effort and energy is put where it should be: thinking about what you should do. Instead of telling kids their math scores are too low, explain them that you want them to be able to draw a graph and to understand equations. Instead of endlessly bashing politicians over mistakes, let’s make an effort on telling them what we do want from them. We don’t want them haggling about what happened, but being honest about it. And next, we want them to help think about fixing it. In business, instead of focusing on elaborate analyses we should think about promoting growth. Learn from mistakes and thinking about where we do want to come out. What brings us one step closer? Just like Scrum teaches: it’s very helpful to just get started and make a step in a direction that’s seems logical. And instead of evaluating that step for weeks, use that time to come up with a better next step.

Instead of putting energy in thinking about what went wrong, put energy in thinking where you want to end up.

So, for your next meeting on that failed project: starts asking about where you all want to end up. What are elements that seem important? What do we want to deliver? How does it look when we are successful? Visualize (and regularly update) your view on success. Not because it will magically come true. But because it helps to focus everyone on what they should do. Don’t focus too much on what you shouldn’t.

Make a connection

If you think this article was interesting, please subscribe to my personal blog.