A Process Of Discovering What You Want
“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 proposed a corollary to 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.”
I was then a fan of James March’s writing (and his quote above), and my first paradoxical principle of creative decision making was: “Be focused and flexible about what you want”, know what you want but don’t be sure. There has always been a lot of warning about getting what you want. For example: Getting to where you want to go may be worse than not getting there; be careful what you wish for, you may get it. “The only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting it,” G. B. Shaw. What you want is your future goal. This blog is about discovering this goal, “goal mining.”
My advice has been: “Use goals to guide you not govern you.” Angeles Arrien put it this way: “Be open to outcome, not attached.” Using goals to govern you is like putting blinders on horses’ eyes. Horses eyes, on the side of their heads, work well for seeing the periphery. Blinders keep them focused on the destination, so they aren’t distracted by the periphery of the journey. In the same way, a zoom lens keeps you focused and a wide-angle lens helps you to be flexible. Using goals to govern you is like using a zoom lens. Knowing what you want should be flexible. If you are governed by your destination, you may miss the journey. You need to be able to be distracted (without blinders) in order to see the roses along the way.
One way not to be governed by goals is to follow James March’s recommendation: “Treat goals as hypotheses.” A hypothesis is an assumption, something taken to be true for the purpose of investigation. This means two things: you are not sure and you need to explore.
Being focused and flexible helps you broaden your experiences, expand your interests, and perhaps lead to new goals and new decisions. 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 know, what you believe and what you do. Actually, what you want, what you know, and what you believe, determine what you decide to do. This is why: “Decision making should be as much a process of discovering goals as achieving goals,” James March.
“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.”
Henry David Thoreau