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


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  1. Betsy Collard says:

    Hi HB, My goal hasn’t been very good even in just guiding me…my goal is to be back in touch more regularly with you and people who are important to me and then I get going and time passes. Any chance we could at least have coffee or breakfast one day during the week between Christmas and New Year’s? All is well here, just busy, I have a group of 6″ladies” coming for lunch today who I am taking on a safari in June to raise money for FCCF! Then I can focus on wrapping (and buying!!!) presents. Love to you and Carol and let me know if some morning works for breakfast,Betsy

    Date: Sat, 19 Dec 2015 00:47:32 +0000 To:

  2. Eugene Unger says:

    Happy Christmas H😄👧🏻 a good goal for all 😇 How is your lip? Fast healing I pray. Your friend. Gene



  3. hbgelatt says:

    Happy Christmas also. My lip is a cold sore, not skin cancer!!!

    H B

  4. Marianne Fontana says:

    I like this one because I am not generally a goal maker, and I think that I should be. Actually, I am an intuitive directionalist. How about that for a term? I visualize what I want to do and generally plan for it. However, my intuition might show me various paths to the end result. So, like you wrote, I am not governed by my goal. A goal seems so final to me, otherwise
    This is a convoluted message, I think.

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