A Process Of Goal Mining
Decision making should be as much a process of discovering goals as achieving goals. James March
How do you find good goals? In 1974, a very popular book by David Campbell had the title, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” I was then a fan of James March’s writing (and quote above), and my first paradoxical principle of creative decision making was: “Be focused and flexible, know what you want but don’t be sure.” So I proposed a corollary to David Campbell’s title. “If you always know where you’re going you may never end up somewhere else, and somewhere else may be where you wanted to go but didn’t know it.” Getting to where you want to go may be worse than not getting there. Sometime your choice for action may be to find out where you want to go.
My precept was, and still is: “Use goals to guide you not govern you.” Angeles Arrien put it this way: Be open to outcome, not attached. Blinders are put on horses to keep them focused on the destination, so they aren’t distracted by the periphery of the journey. If you are governed by your destination, you may miss the journey. You need to be able to be distracted (flexible) in order to see the roses along the way.
March pointed out that there are two types of decision making models: The adult model and the childhood model. In the adult model it is assumed adults already know what they want; in the childhood model it is assumed children do not. In the childhood model of decision making we tell children to do things they do not want to do because we believe it will broaden their experiences, expand their interests, and perhaps lead to new goals. The asymmetry of these models is conspicuous.
Being focused and flexible helps children and adults broaden their experiences, expand their interests, and perhaps lead to new goals. Using goals to guide you not govern you avoids missing life’s journey. Treating a goal as a hypothesis may prevent being attached.
March also asks: Why are we more reluctant to ask how human beings might find “good goals” than we are to ask how they might make “good decisions”. Finding good goals (wants) and making good decisions should not be incompatible. Making good decisions involves what you want, what you known, what you believe and what you do. It involves more than what you want. And you may not know what you want.
Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after. Henry David Thoreau
“I don’t want to be a butterfly”, said the caterpillar, because I’ve never been one.” Stewart Edward White