Leadership

The Optimal Rate Of Growth

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Goals are useful for setting the direction. Systems are great for actually making progress. In fact, the primary benefit of having a goal is that it tells you what sort of system you need to put in place. However, the system itself is what actually achieved the results.

Imagine a small row boat. Your goals are like the rudder on the boat. They set the direction and determine where you go. If you commit to one goal, then the rudder stays put and you continue moving forward. If you flip-flop between goals, then the rudder moves all around and it is easy to find yourself rowing in circles.

However, there is another part of the boat that is even more important than the rudder: The oars. If the rudder is your goal, then the oars are your process for achieving it. While the rudder determines your direction, it is the oars that determine your progress.

This metaphor of the rudder and the oars helps clarify the difference between systems and goals.

Of course, change is certainly possible, but it is only sustainable within a fairly narrow window. When an athlete trains too hard, she ends up sick or injured. When a company changes course too quickly, the culture breaks down and employees get burnt out.

Living systems do not like extreme conditions.

Thankfully, there is a better way.

By contrast, when you accumulate small wins and focus on one percent improvements, you nudge equilibrium forward. It is like building muscle. If the weight is too light, your muscles will atrophy. If the weight is too heavy, you’ll end up injured. But if the weight is just a touch beyond your normal, then your muscles will adapt to the new stimulus and equilibrium will take a small step forward.