Navigating your way through complexity in a rapidly changing, information-saturated world

This is the third of a series of posts recommending and describing a series of disciplines, processes, practices and character traits we need to build into our lives and our businesses if we are going to survive and thrive in this turbulent environment.

You can review the earlier posts and get up to speed here.

Introduction to the concept.

Navigating your way through complexity — part two

I’ve suggested that we need to build some ‘sails’ into our lives which power us forward, and some ‘keels’ which hold us in place.

Here’s my recommendation for the first ‘keel’ to build into our lives and corporate cultures.

The First Keel:  An articulated vision or purpose.

One of the defining characteristics of our turbulent world is the incredible number of choices we need to make just to get through the day.  Richard Swenson accurately described it in his book, Margin:

“The spontaneous tendency of our culture is to inexorably add detail to our lives:  one more option, one more problem, one more commitment, one more expectation, one more purchase, one more debt, one more change, one more job, one more decision.  We must now deal with more ‘things per person’ than at any other time in history.”

We just can’t afford to make decisions on the spur of the moment, by criteria that vary from situation to situation. Or, worse, on the basis of an emotional reaction and no criteria at all.  If we are going to deal effectively with the onslaught of decisions and the tidal wave of ‘things per person’, we need to have some criteria in place, and a process that requires us to refer to the criteria.

The place to start is with an articulated statement of our ultimate purpose or vision.  It’s a keel – put into place once with a great deal of thought – and then going unchanged for years, decades and maybe for a lifetime. Like the lead on the bottom of the sailboat, a thoughtful statement of purpose holds us in line and prevents us from chasing after every whiff of a good idea or an attractive opportunity.

Ideally, whenever we are confronted with a major decision, we stop and compare that decision to our stated purpose.  Does this move us toward our vision, or is it a needless detour that will ultimately waste our time and effort?

One of the things that I have learned is that it is a higher-level executive skill to be able to say “no” than it is to say ‘yes.’  Those who don’t master the art of saying no are forever doomed to immaturity in their business skills, while those who can and do say no operate out of confidence, and at a higher level of skill and social finesse.

The ability to say no is a higher-order skill, indicative of a more mature, more developed psyche.  When you can, quickly and decisively, say no, it indicates that you have a focus and a set of guidelines to shape your decisions. You are confident enough in your goals, your strategy, and your values that you can risk the pressure that may come.  The decision being considered doesn’t fit your guidelines, so a prompt no allows you and the other person to move along.

‘No’ is a time management strategy. There is only so much time, and the demands on our time are greater now than at any time in the past.  Saying no to something that is clearly outside of your focus, that doesn’t move you closer to your vision or your goals is a powerful time management technique.  When you say no, you free your time, and your emotional and intellectual energy to invest in something that is closer to what you want.  Not deciding, or deciding and not communicating, adds hours of wasted effort.

If we played with every offer made to us, if we entertained every ‘too good to be true’ deal in today’s barrage of emails, we would be spinning our wheels forever.  The enemy of the best thing is the good thing, and we need to cultivate the ability to say no to those offers and people who sound good but ultimately direct our attention away from the best.

Having a stated purpose or vision, and then developing the discipline to compare every possible big issue to that picture, is a fundamental keel in the life of an effective, 21st Century professional.

Your purpose statement

It is a statement – typically no more than a hundred words or so, which capsulizes your best thinking about the ultimate goal of your life and/or your business. In it, you describe where you want to go – ultimately, where you want to end up.

It recognizes a greater good, a bigger presence, a larger impact than you have now, and it clearly describes that end.  It’s like getting into your car for a major road trip and setting the destination in the GPS.  Before you decide how to get there, you need to know where you are going.  You start at the end, and this is the ultimate end.

There are ample resources around to help you create a business vision/mission statement, which is the business version of what we are talking about.  There are also ample resources to guide you in creating a personal vision statement.  I’m not going to recreate existing good advice.  However, here are a couple of examples from my own life:

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My personal vision statement: “He became a Godly man.”

My business vision and mission statements:

Vision

To continually increase our positive impact on people and organizations while remaining in the center of God’s direction and reflecting His character.

Mission

To encourage salespeople, sales managers, and chief sales officers to live a more successful and fulfilled life by enabling them to sell better and lead better.

To help instill concepts and practices into Christian businesspeople to spur them to see their businesses and professions as ministries and to enable them to gain influence and impact.

To help multiply the number of Biblical Businesses by at least a factor of ten by 2027.

We do this through the application of our abilities to provide consulting services, create educational products, create and deliver presentations and provide training.

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Clearly, my statements are informed by my Christian faith. That is as it should be. Our spiritual beliefs reside in the deepest part of our psyche and should influence every decision we make.  The purpose statements are a way of giving expression to the confluence of those beliefs and our daily lives.

Once having developed these statements, the job then is to see to it that they influence and guide us.

Using the statements

It is one thing to create the statements, and quite another to use them.  Using them means, first, publishing them to those who can hold us accountable.  In the case of our personal vision that typically includes our closest family.

For the business, that means everyone who has a stake in the business – employees, vendors, contractors, and customers.

Then, it means regularly referring to them.  Reviewing them as a part of every planning meeting, developing the discipline of using them to inform every major decision, and annually assessing our progress toward the goal.

This requires intentionality and discipline.  Those applied to this task of creating foundational documents to guide your life and your business will keep you from being blown off course and steady you in the turbulent seas in which we find ourselves.

As we begin the process of acquiring the skills, competencies discipline, and attitudes necessary to navigate our way through complexity in this rapidly changing, information-saturated world, the sail of personal responsibility and the keel of an articulated vision statement are two fundamental steps in the process.

*PWA-5

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