Pursue the Goal Not the Method

finish line In the back of a town car hired to take me to the Kansas City International airport, talking to Jeff, a driver with two kids, self-proclaimed ADD, and a history of quitting rote sales jobs every few months, I realized something of importance to the story of what’s brought me to this place: I am a seeker of the goal, not the method. Now, to unpack.

The Method Is What We’re Taught to Pursue

We learn our times tables. We learn the 50 states (in the US, at least). We are taught all these rules, these patterns, these systems, these methods. Musicians learn their scales. Painters copy the Masters. Copy. Learn. Make patterns.

Repetition. Finding grooves. Fitting into our assembly lines. Aligning to the way we understand how to measure.

Method. The process by which we get somewhere. Kempo karate is a method of fighting. Kicking the other guy’s ass is the goal.

You see this, right?

“New” is Rarely a Byproduct of Repetition

Except when it is. iPod was a whole new way of framing the music story: 1000 songs (not megabytes and gigabytes). iTunes store not just an orphaned player. Wheel and single button, not a slew of buttons.

And the Nano is the baby of the original, but the iPhone is nothing like the original, except they removed the wheel and left only one button. New. Again.

Now, repetition isn’t the only facet of method, and method isn’t bad. I need to be clear about that. But focusing on perfecting one’s method isn’t as useful as focusing on solving for the goal.

Pursue the Goal, Not the Method

I addressed the International Association of Business Communicators at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, a painted lady teetering between demolition and emotional buttressing. The room was, as it always is, filled with that mix of the converted, the confused, the naysayers, the proof (that it all works), and me. Me, the street preacher, the jester, the irreverent, the addle-brained and yet target-minded sayer of what everyone swears they already know and blogs that they’ve seen it all before. Common sense. Be human. Be real.

I imagine some of them at their desk today, looking at their monitor, digging into their email, looking at their stats, settling back into the warm cottony folds of what they know how to do, what they were taught to do, what they practiced and repeated and did again and again. Trenchwork, some of it. And some of them are damned pleased and okay to be pleased by performing it.

But some of my people, some of those who saw something, felt the sparkle, caught a whiff of what I’m cooking, they got what I was saying. Old roads have precious little to do with new paths. What came before doesn’t have to explain what should be done next. We don’t have to repeat repeat repeat repeat.

I read once that every cell in our body completely recycles every four days. Perhaps I have it wrong, but when I think of that, I’m caught. I wonder why my scar from cutting my left ring finger while pulling a fern out of the ground during a Boy Scout survival weekend still persists. I wonder why I still have cowlicks in my hair. If every cell is new again, why can’t I be someone else every four days? But this is a side thought. This is a distraction for you to ponder. Scientists need not apply: I’m a disciple of accepting mystery instead of seeking truth. (Delusional, maybe, but pleasantly surprised? Yes.)

Methods change. It’s not that you shouldn’t learn methods, but rather that you should be ready to switch methods by facing the goals.

And Here At the End, The Goal

You will do so much more with your pursuits should you become a pursuer of the goal, and not a student of the method. Okay, SOME of you will. Others, you need the repetition, the ritual, the comfort. That is so very okay. Religion is all that. Okay, most religion is all that. Most religion is the method.

Seek the goal. The goal is equipping people. The goal is satisfying need. The goal is seeking to better others. The goal is to provide. The goal is to make everything work better.

See how that works? Think about your goals. Think about your company’s goals. What if you threw out EVERY method you were using before this very moment? The goals would still be there.

What if you left email behind and used ONLY voice? Could you still reach your goal? What if I stopped blogging and only sent you emails? What if we all shut our computers off? (Not sure we could ever get that genie back into the bottle.) What if we switched to mobile-centric design?

Goals. Not. Methods.

And you said…

Photo credit Dru Bloomfield

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  • Cal

    Loved this one. There have been great breakthroughs by people striving for the goal without using an established method. To someone not very familiar with these few people I am sure it may really grate as it could seem effortless or sheer luck.
    Only thing is the people that dare to do this have done it before, failed and found that it did not hurt as bad as everyone said it would. So they keep on doing it with sheer brutal determination, intelligence and force of character that eventually makes their “unmethod” work.

    Takes massive talent to do it this way.

    Is it that there are not enough people out there that can pull this off? No there are tons of them but they are stuck waiting for someone to tell them it is OK to blow off convention; to show them how to try, to finally be able to read between the lines and see what you see.

    Why do you think so many people read your blog? They love what you do because you are pursuing the goal but they can't quite figure out your unmethod.

    I hope they figure out that they need to find their own unmethod and the only way to do that is to just go do it…. a lot.

    I have to tell you though this is one of the best places to start.

    Cal

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  • http://www.tlmarketing.net/ Tom Lindstrom

    Excellent post! A few people have contacted me asking what is the best method of getting traffic to a website.I told them that they needed to first setup a realistic goal and then look at the method of getting the traffic.If you have just a goal and no method you will not get anywhere, and if you use the wrong method you will most likely fail.

  • dileepr

    I agree but with a qualifier – as long as the methods are morally and ethically correct, it does not matter and encourages creativity.

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  • michelechollow

    When I studied yoga, I learned that the journey is more important than the destination. I use the journey to learn, and I always keep the goal in clear sight.

  • http://www.homejapan.com/ Traveler

    Good post. But about those cells:

    Every cell recycling in FOUR DAYS? Considering that every dead cell has but one path “out” of the body, you'd have to excrete 50 lbs. or so every day to make that happen. A bit of an inconvenience…

    I heard “every seven years” as the full-body cell replacement factoid. There's probably no way to put a serious number on that, but “every several years” is at least plausible.

    Best -

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    Interesting post,

    Stepping back and looking through anothers eyes now and again is so important.

    Paul.

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    Totally agree with this post. To many time people just get hung up on the method and forget about the goal. Its better to know where you are going and how you want to accomplish it. This is true for everything in life and if we are talking business and customer relationsships then of course also this part. A company (as well as humans) should know its goals and have a strategy in hand on how to efficiently get the plans fullfilled.

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  • http://www.yuregininsesi.com/ yuregininsesi

    Your stance in the world is important to reach your goal but there has to be some level of mastery and for that you have to respect the process, but not so much as to always use the same method and become predictable.

    As a practitioner of Ninjutsu which is fluid and not mechanical, it's a combination of other methods (arts) I would add that knowing a little bit of other methods and then including those in your path to the goal opens up other options instead of just following the same tired old method.

  • Seslimeydan

    When I studied yoga, I learned that the journey is more important than the destination. I use the journey to learn, and I always keep the goal in clear sight.

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