Achieving our goals in uncertain times

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

One way to find out 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 do this is by defining just two things.

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

The second is that 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.

Defining these two things maximises the chances of success in a fast-changing environment.

For us, the equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement are our purpose and 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 to keep moving in the same direction, even when the world around us is changing.

Our values show us which issues matter to us and which ones we can ignore. This saves us time, which makes us more effective, and keeps us focused on what matters most to us. Our values also allow us to define how we choose to behave, no matter what the people around us might say or do. This helps us remain centred and grounded, which helps us find the best way forward, and then move to action. And in a time of change, all these things will increase our efficiency, effectiveness, and adaptability.

The way elite army units succeed in fast changing, even hostile, environments is by defining their purpose and their rules of engagement.

When we define our own purpose and values we also give ourselves the focus and flexibility to achieve the results that matter most to us, even when the world around us is changing.

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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