Six Sigma and more:
New Year’s resolutions: Turning dreams into action
It is the season to begin breaking our new year’s resolutions! Since resolutions seem somewhat like the hopes, dreams, and visions I wrote about in December, I thought this might be a good time to revisit that theme with an eye on how to make them a reality.
First, let’s review my admonitions in December:
- Dream big enough
- Write your dream down and revisit it periodically
- Share your dream with others
- Make time to pursue it by deleting something you are already doing.
Now, let’s build on those admonitions.
Many years ago, in a Leadership and Mastery workshop conducted by Peter Senge and Daniel Kim, Peter said some things about this area of visioning and making it happen that stayed with me. Using the analogy of a rubber band, he noticed that if we hold the vision at one end of the rubber band and the reality at the other, the bigger the vision the tighter the tension in the rubber band.
We, of course, are like the rubber band and, frequently, would like to reduce the tension. As Peter explained, we tend to reduce the tension by reducing the size of the vision for a couple of reasons. First, we tend to believe we are not worthy to achieve really big visions. Second, we believe we are not capable of achieving really big visions. I think most of us need to get over it. Those two beliefs reduce the size of our dreams. They also pop up whenever we run up against an obstacle in our journey toward achieving our vision. Unconsciously perhaps, we think “I guess I really didn’t deserve that one,” or “I guess I’m really not smart enough or powerful enough to make that dream happen.” In anticipation of those psychological roadblocks to achieving a vision that is worthy of us, we can take a few actions.
Develop a plan. We all develop plans, but usually they are to achieve a “realistic” goal. They still work for accomplishing big dreams. Some of us are comfortable detailing a step-by-step set of actions. Some of us work out the large goals within the vision. Some of us use Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) charts, Gantt charts, and critical path charts (CPC). In an organizational framework, there is, of course management by objectives (MBO), the well-conceived and usually poorly-implemented management tool. As you know, Hoshin Planning is also another good choice. You may be happy with your own Six Sigma approach to the implementation of change. My favorite tool is the systematic diagram because, for me, it is less structured and more flexible. That flexibility helps me with what, I think, is most important for “big vision” planning. Dream big, take small steps, and seize opportunity.
Make your next step or steps small enough to achieve in one sitting. What can you do in a day, an hour, or 10 minutes? You don’t, however, need to work out the details beyond that next step. It may, in fact, be counterproductive to work out that detail because of my last suggestion, seizing the opportunity. Our very wise friend and colleague, Rita Cleary, likes to say that she only does things that are “light as a feather.” She keeps a bowl of feathers in her office to remind herself and others that when we run up against an obstacle, we don’t need to butt our heads against it. Just wait for another opportunity. I am reminded of this while watching some great football running backs over the weekend. When they run up against a would be tackler, they dodge, they spin, they twist, they dive, or they move laterally. They may even stop or move backward to seize another opportunity. In case it’s not obvious, I think our detailed plans usually only work as originally conceived when our goals were so easy that we didn’t really need a plan, just a few steps. The world is ever-changing and the road to big visions is never linear.
In December, I suggested sharing your dream with others. Here, I’m suggesting you go a little further. Ask for help. If you are reluctant to ask for help directly, as many of us are, you might try asking for guidance. Ask folks what you can do to make your dream a reality. You are likely to get useful recommendations and even some help beyond the recommendations.
The last thing I suggested in December was to delete something you are already doing. This idea is not new news, but it is difficult. I do it by prioritizing using my calendar. I only have so much time in the day. Nearly all my consequential actions are on my calendar. I know that is not the most efficient or even effective way to plan, but, using Microsoft Outlook, which is convenient for me, it is the best I have figured out. I think that Steven Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon and Schuster, New York: 1989) provides the best approach to prioritizing and I highly recommend reading it if you have not already. I’d like to add two other ideas to making it happen.
Celebrate each step along the way. Some folks recommend rewarding yourself. My rewards are simple, because I have an amazingly loving wife, Carole. Whenever I accomplish the smallest task, I happily announce it to my wife. Maybe my reward is a high five, maybe a “way to go,” maybe a hug or a kiss. Whatever works for you, don’t forget to celebrate enthusiastically and often. You deserve it.
Finally, persevere. If your dream is big enough, it is worth the effort. We all know the importance of persistence. Here’s what Albert Einstein said:
“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.”
As always, I treasure your comments and questions. I’m particularly interested in your ideas about how to make things happen. We have big things to do. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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