I once heard that in order to reach the moon, NASA made over a thousand mid-course corrections.
At first I was surprised. If you know where you’re going, why not just plot the course, like they do on Star Trek?
But then I realized it’s a perfect metaphor for a trap we often fall into when goal-setting.
This 2 minute video explains the trap and how to avoid it:
Your vision will expand and become more clear the closer you get to it, but its fundamental essence will not change. Your goals, however, are your steps along the path. As your path is revealed, your goals may need to change.
Waiting for a yearly review of goals does not make sense.
Progress toward goals should be part of regular ongoing discussions.
Ask questions like:
- Are there things you need to do to support your goal?
- Do you have the skills you need?
- Are the right people involved?
- Do you have the resources you need?
- Is the timeframe realistic?
- Does your goal still make sense given your current circumstances?
- Is there another goal that will get you further and faster to where you want to go?
Don’t change your goals capriciously. But do check frequently to make sure they still serve your purpose and direction. You might need to adjust your goals if you discover a new aspect to your dreams or that your course has changed.
The moonshot guys (probably very few women back then) were using math, physics, et al to decide on the course to the moon (and back) right from the moment of lift off. The influence of weather in Florida needed to be predicted and dealt with, never mind the gravitational pull of the earth once they were in outer space. Then, there were the three unpredictable humans ‘flying’ the craft to be contended with.
As Burns the poet said, ‘The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft agley’.
What’s interesting about the moon shot analogy, and the one that Kennedy spoke of in his ‘vision’ was, ‘…landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth’. Yes, it was a goal, but it was part vision. Let’s say it was visionary goal, especially as there were huge gaps in the knowledge about how to get there.
Incidentally, Kennedy had this goal/vision for both idealistic and pragmatic reasons, i.e., beat the Russians.
In business, remembering the vision when the goals are buffeted by the reality of the unexpected always makes a difference. It helps people make choices when a void opens up.
Hi Alan, I agree it was a really big goal, what Jim Collins and Jerry Porras call a BHAG, (a “big hairy audacious goal” in Built to Last. These kinds of goals are quite mobilizing. Unfortunately a goal based on winning a race ends once the race is won. An engineer on the Apollo Moon project once told me that internally they saw the exploration of space as a solution to over-population, the next frontier – a noble purpose and I suspect that if it had been widely embraced, an enduring vision would have emerged.
Excellent point that “remembering the vision when the goals are buffeted by the reality of the unexpected always makes a difference. It helps people make choices when a void opens up.” I think this is true not only in business but in all aspects of our lives. Thanks for sharing your insights here.
Dear Jesse Lyn,
Again you published an interesting blog and illustrated with a video.
I wonder often: is it the goal that makes you maintain your focus to fulfill your vision when achieving a goal or is the vision the driving force to focus on your goal? What we train clients in goal setting, we challenge them to shift their mindset.
Because when you know your reality and you have a vision, that is the basis for your goal.
When a goal is set, then you determine your resources and define your actions. When you have carried out your actions, you check if this is the way to achieve your goal and if it still fits the way you use your resources. If the outcome is different, then we challenge them to redefine their resources instead of changing their goals. If you keep doing this, you will achieve your goal and finally fulfill your vision. Then the circle starts over again.
This is the other way around comparing the video, if I am not mistaken.
I believe a lot of people often struggle with this. I value your opinion on this.
Warm regards from Holland,
Hello Caroline, I appreciate your raising this interesting question. I believe that when you have a real vision, your vision is the driving force. What’s important is taking action, not just dreaming. Goals help us take steps toward our vision.
When your goals are aligned with your vision, all goes well and it is best to proceed in the way that you describe – carry out actions to achieve your goal and if you do not progress, redefine your resources or approach to the goal. Will you need to change your goals 1001 times? I doubt it. But you may need to frequently adjust and fine-tune them to ensure they are tracking in line with your vision.
It is important to never lost sight of your vision. There is a danger in assuming that because your goal is aligned with your vision, all you need to do is focus on your goal. Sometimes circumstances change, either suddenly or slowly over time, or it might be that you begin to understand aspects of your vision more deeply, and you may discover that your goal no longer serves your vision.
We need to be careful not to loose sight of the problem behind the vision. What motivated the vision or idea in the first place? Keeping the problem you are trying to solve front and centre is just as important as the vision if not more so – should the idea or vision fail to come to fruition, rather than being thrust into the pit of disappointment, can still remain motivated to try other solutions.
Nice one Jesse,
Yup, the only static goals that I know of are goals in football (UK). Other than that, if you make a goal static you have a problem.
Everyone has a different perspective of a goal, so everyone’s course is going to be different to start off with. Then add in variables, deviation etc, and as you bring to point in your video, you can get nowhere fast if just focused on your goal.
One thing that can be very helpful is to think in a system thinking way, because feedback is essential for systems to work well. Imagine if NASA did not get constant feedback and vice-versa, Apollo missions would look very different today. Looking at where you are from the perspective of your vision gets you feedback that can show changes needed well before you may see them from a static position.
As you mention, If you check in with your vision looking back to where you are, it is easier to see adjustments you might have to make and see what affect they may have overall. Both Google and Apple are good examples of this type of thinking, they make constant readjustments as they see, learn from feedback.
This way of looking from another perspective (feedback) also allows you to see places where you may be running into trouble. A course correction of 1 degree from 10,000 miles away will look huge, but looked at from the point of correction, it is barely visible, another point when thinking about whether small course directions are worthwhile.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in goals that we can forget what our vision was, or forget what it really looks like. Share your vision and make it a shared vision if you want to succeed. We tend to have linear thinking minds and we can forget that we live in a nonlinear world.
Thanks for your great reminders here.
Well said, Simon! Thanks for further illuminating these points.
As a sailor, you might appreciate that I also like to use the analogy of “tacking.” I grew up sailing on the large lakes of the mid-west. In lake sailing, you head toward a point on land, but you rarely point your boat directly at your destination because of the wind. Instead you make a series of zig-zags. But even though you are tacking, you never take your eyes off your destination.
Stop, look, correct, take action. It is a circle you can’t stop the motion of and probably why there is frustration for people that don’t like change as the corrective action is being perceived as having been wrong in the first place. A course correction is just that, aligning you back to the original intention being your vision.
Hi Thabo, That’s interesting- if you think taking corrective action means you were wrong in the first place, you might be defended against wanting to feel that way. So understanding the necessity of “mid-course corrections” is way of reframing the meaning.