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To Think About . . .
Think big and act small. Leslie Koch
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Discussion Forum > Emergent goals and predetermined goals

Emergent goals are the goals that arise from simply being engaged with our work. Maybe you could call them implicit goals. They are real goals -- but maybe you haven't articulated them clearly or ever written them down. But they are important to you, and they guide your work and actions.

Many of Mark's systems are designed around this principle. The original Autofocus, and all the no-list systems, and NQ-FVP especially come to mind. The "standing out" principle is based on this idea: you already really know what you need to be doing, let the system help you find it.

Systems designed around this principle are engaging, create a sense of flow, generate high volumes of output, and create breakthroughs. However, they can also get out of alignment with our "objective" commitments and deadlines, creating a sense of unreliability and resistance to the system. They can also become somewhat aimless and impulsive, resulting in the processing of huge amounts of trivia.

At the other end of the spectrum are systems that focus on pre-determination of your goals and commitments. Most systems seem to be designed this way, whether "personal productivity" systems, or corporate "measurement by objective" programs. The silliest of these are "mission statement" activities that result in abstractions that have no connection to reality. Even more harmful are large "waterfall" projects that must meet certain pre-determined objectives, but then, when we finally achieve them, they don't solve the problem they intended to solve, and don't deliver the value they were expected to deliver.

Systems that focus on completion of pre-determined goals and commitments often create immediate resistance. They fail to address the unarticulated goals that are just as real and just as important as the ones we've written down. They also fail to identify the written goals that don't accurately express what really needs to be done. This creates a conflict between what we intuitively *know* we should be doing, and what the system tells us we should be doing. The immediate result is resistance, procrastination, and displacement activities. In the rare case when our intuition is aligned with our written goals, maybe the system will be very effective -- but as soon as any dissonance arrives, resistance is sure to follow.

What is the solution?

I don't think it's a matter of preferring an emergent approach over a pre-determined approach.

Rather, I think the problem arises when the emergent goals and the pre-determined goals get out of alignment. That seems to be the common thread.

Many of Mark's systems take an iterative approach -- the "little and often" principle, and the "dynamic list" tool, are both examples of this. They allow you to set a direction and keep working at it iteratively, engaging your intuition and allowing you to develop new insights and respond to changing circumstances.

But systems that "force" you to commit to some goal -- such as SuperFocus requiring you to action all your Column 2 items before taking action on Column 1 -- or AutoFocus requiring you to take some action on a page lest it be dismissed -- or even some of the no-list algorithms requiring you to take action in a specific order -- generally create resistance over time.

I think the resistance arises for the reason identified above -- the forced action is out of alignment with what we intuitively know we need to do. But we can't articulate it clearly, and we are left with a sense of unresolved anxiety. The systems are intended to ELIMINATE unresolved anxiety, not CREATE it! So we end up abandoning the system and looking for another solution.

So here is a proposed solution:
We need systems that prompt us to remember our "objective" commitments and goals, but give also give us complete freedom for our intuition to go in whatever direction we feel we need to go.

I think my Seeded No-List system is very close to that already, and needs only a small adjustment. Which I have posted here:

I'm betting Mark will have an even better solution! :-)
May 17, 2017 at 0:16 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Indeed I have.
May 17, 2017 at 1:42 | Registered CommenterMark Forster

Would there perhaps be any chance of you telling us, how your "better solution" looks like?
May 18, 2017 at 13:29 | Unregistered CommenterLaby

Not yet. Sorry.
May 18, 2017 at 15:16 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Oh, that's great! I just assumed you meant NQ-FVP was the better solution. Looking forward to seeing what you are cooking up! :-)
May 18, 2017 at 16:07 | Registered CommenterSeraphim