Ditch the goal and embrace the unknown

It’s mid-January. How is your New Year’s resolution going? Did you forget about it already? That’s great news! I heard something many years ago that stuck with me: the purpose of a goal is to set you in a direction. Once you’re headed somewhere, forget about the goal.

Goals give us the illusion of control, however, and we’re drawn to that. We get thrown off course when things come up that we can’t control. Which, let’s be honest, is A LOT OF THINGS. More than we’d like to admit: other people, the weather, and our own health to name a few. I’m regularly inspired by the book Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown. She highlights the fact that we live in an ever-changing, constantly emerging world, and asks how we can do social justice work in such a context. It’s got me thinking about applying these ideas to my communications work.

What do emergent communications look like? What would it mean for a website to unfold naturally? I don’t know but I want to explore it! Here are some ideas for different ways of designing (and measuring) your work:

  • Goal: embrace imperfection. The quest for perfection keeps things caged and stale, not to mention stressful (to put it mildly). Mistakes are part of growth and evolution. Making space for mistakes offers an opportunity to try new things. This applies on a personal and an organizational level. What would happen if you put your perfectionist down for a nap while you created your annual report? Maybe it would be launched later, but everyone involved would be more relaxed.
  • Goal: innovate and be creative. Letting go of the need to be perfect allows you try something new. What interesting and unexpected things might emerge if you experimented? A colleague recently told me they released an audio annual report this year. Will it be a huge hit or a bust? She had no idea, but she was going to try anyway.
  • Goal: be curious. Crafting communications is a lot of work, and hitting that “send” to your email list seems like the final step. But what if finishing a communications piece wasn’t the end, but rather the beginning of a conversation? Try asking for feedback after you send it, and let your audiences’ ideas influence future work.

What do you think about creating goals that are approach-based rather than outcome-based? Instead of saying “I need to make sure we redesign our website before an important event” you might say “I want our website process to nourish everyone involved, and for us to gain insights about our organization along the way.” Doing so would require a certain humility: the understanding that we don’t know what the future holds and a willingness to learn from change and unexpected obstacles. Let’s give it a try!