You can focus on the goal (if you want to be disappointed) but in uncertain times such as these the “code” should be your objective, writes Andrew Meikie.
We live in a liquid world, where seemingly small eddies in a vast current of events can drastically alter course and destination. To focus on an outcome is almost naive. As the environment changes, so too must the human mind change.
Recently I asked eight of the world’s leading futurists what environmental trends they believed were having the most significant effect on human psychology. Three trends dominated their responses: speed of innovation; globalisation/ increasing competition; and terrorism.
Each of these has multiple effects on human psychology. The most significant is that all of these trends destabilise our perception of the outcome (what may happen). As people we need to feel certain, and one of the ways we do this is to develop strong perceptions about our future; setting goals for ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, is one way we go about this.
It is harder to feel certain about the future; all the above trends make our environment a moving platform. The effect is obvious — those who focus on that which is uncertain then feel uncertain. As a result I have found that high achievers instinctively shift their focus to protect their certainty. The trends emerging in my research allow the high achiever certainty in uncertain times.
For the past 50 years the primary conscious tool in the achievement world has been goals. The goal strategy flowed out of the early American motivation movement and has become an unquestioned method of achiever development. My research indicates we should be careful with the use of this strategy in a world defined by uncertainty of outcome. Goals train people in outcome-based thinking.
Without meaning to do so, many leaders are training their people to feel more uncertainty as a result of this strategy. You can see the effect of this when leaders need to alter the outcomes mid-stream and team-members are often moved to cry out, “You’re moving the goalposts!” In light of what you are about to read, be curious about the effect of goals. They are absolutely required but need to be balanced with compensating strategies.
LET THE CODE BE YOUR FOCUS
The definition of code is important. It is described in some places as “honour”, in others as a credo and others have a strong code but give it no vocabulary at all. For the purposes of this article a code is a belief or conviction that defines a person’s approach to life.
Interestingly the ancient samurai are a great model for this new style of thought. Two years ago I visited the five remaining samurai masters in Japan to gain a clearer understanding. Matsumoto sensei defined it perfectly when he said: “I don’t know what will happen but I do know how I will approach what does happen.”
Over many centuries the samurai have developed a clear code for living called “budo” (“the way of the warrior”). Their concentration remains firmly on the code and is so consuming that it keeps the focus away from the outcome. This was required in ancient times because the negative outcome was so potent (dying in battle). If the samurai focused on the outcome the uncertainty would be too great and the ensuing fear could interrupt their capacity to fight well.
In modern times there are many examples of people who are code-focused (Nelson Mandela is one). You can pick them because they are willing to sustain enormous uncertainty of outcome. I call Mandela’s a “meaning code”; he was doing what he believed to be the right thing to do, come what may. Carl Lewis is another. When I asked him if he focused on the winning of an event, he said, “I’m not that far in the future. If I do what I do perfectly, winning takes care of itself.” I called Lewis’s a “process code”; he is focused on the action, not the result of the action. This is not to say that he never focuses on the outcome but his focus is dominated by his code.
The way to differentiate your code from your outcomes is simple and best defined with a question: “What do I want?” will access outcome; “What do I stand for?” will access code; “What may happen?” will access outcome; “How should I approach life?” accesses code.
This does not mean one never thinks about the outcome — it’s a balance. The rationale for code focus is simple: high achievers need emotional certainty. Where you choose to put your focus impacts this certainty. Code is certain, outcomes or results are not certain, and current environmental trends make them less certain. I’m finding achievers all over the world instinctively shifting their focus toward code.