“Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution. “
~Johann von Goethe
I like this quote because it speaks to our wish for simplicity and clarity, our expectation that aspects of life will advance in a clearly defined arc. We crave a beginning, middle, then end – just like the stories that we wrote as children in elementary school.
When we explain something we do need to lay it out like the story arc, stripping out all the extraneous stuff that doesn’t feed the storyline. But as we are living in it we, don’t have that luxury of focusing on just the pertinent points for the particular activity where we are seeking progress.
Mistaking churn for progress
Progress isn’t math, 1+1=2, it isn’t clean and it is rarely simple. When you look back at something, it appears that there was regular movement toward the point where you are standing. But if you can focus in on some smaller segment of the timeline, you will probably see something that looks more like a crazy path – up, down, forward and backward motion. Actions were taken which had results, but action is not synonymous with progress.
Let’s say that you had a goal to learn Excel. You waited until just before the deadline to take the class and right after you schedule the class you find out that your organization is launching a project to change to Macs. Now your goal is in conflict with organizational goals. Completing it would fulfill the original goal, but just be churn because any advantage has been lost.
(You should however, not just ignore the goal assuming that you will no longer be held responsible to fulfill it; rather you should ask to discuss updating the goal to be effective.)
Progress in this case is your increase of knowledge, not the kind of knowledge. The story’s arc becomes: I set a goal to learn, I made plans to complete that goal, I found out something that would affect the goal, I updated the goal, I met the corrected goal which made me stronger in that original skill and also in showing adaptability.
© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations