Of Goals, Systems and Success metrics!

How do you set yourself up for success and maximise your chances of getting there? Its a question to which I guess philosophers have forever thought about – and will continue to ponder on. I came across a very interesting perspective from Scott Adams’ book “how to fail at almost everything and still win big“- a droll title worthy of the creator of Dilbert. He believes (among other equally entertaining and enlightening things!) that:

1. Believe in systems (not goals!). Systems are for winners (and goals are for losers!) in his mind

2. Prioritize your activities based on your “personal energy” level – your patterns should be the guide and not an external system. So if you are alert in the morning, do your coolest work then and you can do your exercises in the afternoon (or whatever – the key point is that your personal energy levels should guide your activity). This metric he feels will let you be at your most efficient self and therefore significantly improve your chances of succeeding at whatever you happen to be doing.

I know these look anathema to what most of us have been taught so far, so its a little worthwhile to understand how and why he comes to these conclusions – and evaluate if these will indeed make a difference to us – so here goes…

1. Why does he believe its “Systems and not goals” that help people succeed better? Its because goals use up your willpower (and there’s only so much available in the first place!) while systems make use of knowledge so you internalise them better.

Here’s an example in his own words:

“Going to the gym 3-4 times a week is a goal. And it can be a hard one to accomplish for people who don’t enjoy exercise. Exercising 3-4 times a week can feel like punishment – especially if you overdo it because you’re impatient to get results. When you associate discomfort with exercise you inadvertently train yourself to stop doing it. Eventually you will find yourself “too busy” to keep up your 3-4 days of exercise. The real reason will be because it just hurts and you don’t want to do it anymore. And if you do manage to stay with your goal, you use up your limited supply of willpower.

Compare the goal of exercising 3-4 times a week with a system of being active every day at a level that feels good, while continuously learning about the best methods of exercise. Before long your body will be trained, like Pavlov’s dogs, to crave the psychological lift you get from being active every day. It will soon become easier to exercise than to skip it – no willpower required. And your natural inclination for challenge and variety will gently nudge you toward higher levels of daily activity while at the same time you are learning in your spare time how to exercise in the most effective way. That’s a system.”

Check this wonderful post of his where he details his thoughts lucidly.

2. Now let’s say we setup a system – how do we even measure if we are doing good? He recommends aligning activities to our personal energy levels on the premise that when energy levels are high, your best work results. Let’s hear him expound this in his own words again (here’s the link to his own post):

“Maximizing my personal energy means eating right, exercising, avoiding unnecessary stress, getting enough sleep, and all of the obvious steps. But it also means having something in my life that makes me excited to wake up. When I get my personal energy right, the quality of my work is better, and I can complete it faster. That keeps my career on track. And when all of that is working, and I feel relaxed and energetic, my personal life is better too.”

Over the last few days I have tried to test this out (it certainly seems a plausible read but the test of the pudding is in the eating right!) – and initial results are very promising. Let me explain:

– One of my focus areas has been to identify new solutions to take to the marketplace. The traditional approach would be to put a goal “2 new services”, a strategy “say blue ocean strategy”, bung in a timeline and then work toward it. The systems view on the other hand involves exposing myself to more opportunities (twitter/ yammer/ conferences/ books/ blogs/ connects with leaders) across multiple areas. While I may or may not come up with the required number of new “solutions”, I have had multiple leads over the last few days on very interesting paths. I suspect I have increased my chances of success by a factor of 3 (and in just a week!). In addition – some new exciting areas – requests for “speaking” sessions, coaching options, introduction to some great mind minds to learn from etc. – all of which I believe will stand me in better stead have come my way.

– Personal energy as a metric allows you to look at what works for you particularly. For instance, I realized I like to do my writing in the evening hours, but like to do some problem solving/ working ideas out in the morning. Meditation seems easier in the early morning and actually ups the energy level, while walks/ exercise do the same better in the evenings (again this is just for me – one of the laziest guys in existence today!). I realize late evenings generate big ideas well (as do walks, so worth carrying notebooks with you on them!) so spending some time over thoughtful books/ contemplation are an awesome idea – and so on…. Again, am sure these patterns will change – but aligning activities to personal energy certainly does seem to be a good approach and get things done with least will power, better focus and are more productive.

Would you agree with this and would you be prepared to give it a shot? And dont forget to check those posts (and if possible his book as well ) out – some really wonderful ideas detailed out there.

One comment

  1. Excellent post.. TFS…

    “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued. It must ensue, as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a course greater than oneself.” Victor Frankl

    If we follow the systems, process, patterns and self awareness will yield automatically to success.. This post helps to identify about us…

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