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 those skills and how can we acquire them?

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

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 they do this by defining just two things.

First they make sure that, as well as knowing their mission objective, 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 the way they expected, every person can quickly find new ways to achieve the same purpose — independently if necessary. This increases adaptability.

Second, every unit is also given rules of engagement. These define what actions (such as returning fire) are appropriate and inappropriate under different circumstances. This reduces distractions and keeps the unit focused on its priorities.

By defining just these two things, these organisations and people increase their focus and their adaptability, which maximises their chances of success in a fast-changing environment.

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 to 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 both remain the same, even when How we achieve those things needs to change.

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. Our values also enable us to define how we choose to behave, no matter what the people around us might do or say. Again, this saves us time, it saves us energy, and it keeps us centred and grounded: able to find the best way forward and move quickly to action.

By defining their purpose and rules of engagement, elite army units become more able to succeed in fast changing, even hostile environments. And when we define our purpose and our values we give ourselves the focus and the 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 achieve 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 can’t learn to swim just by reading about swimming, you also need to do the practice.)

Photo By USASOC News Service via

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