Achieving our goals in uncertain times

Achieving our goals in a churning world requires a different set of skills from achieving the same outcomes in a stable environment. What are these skills and how can we acquire them?

One way is by ‘benchmarking’. This means looking for organisations that are already experts at doing what we want to do, and then copying or adapting their approach.

So which organisations are already best practice at achieving specific, measurable outcomes in highly unpredictable situations?

I can’t think of a better example than elite army units. Special forces operating behind enemy lines know how to accomplish their objectives in fast-changing, unpredictable, even hostile environments. And the way they achieve this is by defining just two things.

First they make sure that, as well as knowing their mission objective, every team member also understands the purpose of the mission: the role it plays as part of the wider campaign. Then, when things turn out differently from the way they expected, each person can quickly find new ways to achieve the same purpose — and can do so independently if necessary. This increases adaptability.

Second, every unit is also given rules of engagement. These define what actions (such as returning fire) are allowed and not allowed under different circumstances. This reduces distractions and keeps the unit focused on its priorities.

By defining these two things, these organisations and their people maximise their chances of success in fast-changing environments.

For us, the equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement are our purpose and our values.

Our purpose defines the underlying intention behind whatever we are doing. Being clear about our purpose enables us to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and keep moving in the same direction, even when the world around us changes. What we are working to achieve in the world and Why we are doing it can remain the same, even when How we achieve those things changes.

Our values show us which issues matter to us and which issues we can ignore. This saves us time and keeps us focused on what matters most to us. And our values also allow us to define how we choose to behave, no matter what the people around us might say or do. Again, this saves us time and energy, and keeps us centred and grounded, which again helps us find the best way forward, and then move to action.

In a time of change, all these things will make us more efficient, more effective, and more adaptable.

Elite army units use purpose and rules of engagement to succeed in fast changing, even hostile environments. And when we define our purpose and values we give ourselves the focus and flexibility to achieve the results that matter most to us, even in a changing world.

This is another step to becoming antifragile.

Would you like to increase your ability to get the results that matter most to you? Do you know your three core values and your life purpose?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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(And remember: you don’t learn to swim by reading about swimming, you also need to practice.)

Photo By USASOC News Service via

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