PowerPhrase: Target vs. Actual We don’t fail. We learn.

powerphrase_icon2One big creativity buster is having to get things "right" the first time. Last month, my assistant Angela and I created a new target structure for our work together. We created it as an experiment rather than a do-or-die goal. Then life happened. Our target vs. actual were so different that an outside observer to what actually happened wouldn’t have a clue what we were striving toward.

When it came time to debrief our attempts, it wasn’t about blame. We compared target vs. actual and acknowledged how different they were. But we work from a philosophy that we affirm this way:

  • We don’t fail, we learn.

In this case, we discovered that our target had been overly ambitious. Both of us felt strain trying to be available to the other within the new structure. It was a flawed system, with two people in it trying, but unable, to fit our activities into the system. Sound familiar?

I speak only for myself here. In the course of the trial, I found myself tempted to blame Angela for the fact that we were so far off target. I felt irritation from straining to meet the target, and really had to watch myself to keep from projecting that as some flaw of hers. I know better, but was tempted anyway. I can say this: Angela acknowledged that striving to meet the structure we had set had been a strain for her as well.

The really cool thing is, we didn’t fail, we learned. We replaced our old structure with a more realistic one, and the very first day we tried it, we both felt at home with it. Every management trainer will tell you SMART goals are realistic, and setting unattainable goals is a set-up for failure. Unrealistic goals demoralize staff.

Well, you don’t always know what’s realistic until you try, and that’s why being kata-based – or practice based – and running experiments to see what targets are stretches and what targets are strains – is a very useful thing. As long as you remember: When you earnestly strive toward a stretch goal, you don’t fail as long as you learn. 

Will we stick exactly to the times and agreements we structured? Probably not. Even though we’re currently in a place that seems good so far, with each step we learn more. That means we will continue to refine and adjust, but one thing you can count on, we won’t fail.

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