There’s a slight wrinkle hidden in the previous one minute tip about clarifying outcomes and actions when you’re stuck.
I told you to start by clarifying the outcome by asking:
- What would you like to have happen?
- How will you know that it happened?
- Why is it important to you?
and then to clarify the next concrete action you will take to make it happen.
I stand by that advice.
But the wrinke is this:
You might not be able to achieve the outcome with just this single action.
More steps might be required.
Sometimes many more.
This is especially true for the outcomes you actually care about over the long run.
And requiring many steps might not be the only problem. If you’re operating in a complex environment you might not know up front if the steps we have in mind will actually have the intended effect.
That’s why I like to make the following distinction:
A direct outcome is something you can control (with high-enough probability). It’s the concrete result of at most several work-sessions. It’s probably not the end of the story.
An indirect outcome is something you care about and wish to influence, but is NOT within the reach of your direct actions.
How to stay sane on the road to meaningful outcomes?
If you clarify your outcome and it looks like it might not be under your total control (i.e. it’s an indirect outcome) then start with a concrete step that you is under your control and then iterate towards the things you really want.
1) Clarify each step as it’s own direct outcome.
Think of them as solid bricks that have their own separate existence but can also be stacked on top of each other to build a house.
2) Set up some feedback loops and after laying the next brick ask yourself:
- How much closer am I to the goal?
- What have I learned in the process?
- What’s the next best brick I can create?
3) There’s no step three.
It’s a simple yet powerful framework that can help you stay sane trying to influence things beyond your direct control.
And how do you approach this problem? How do you stay motivated and effective on the road towards big, meaningful outcomes?
See you in the next one,
* Winding road image by Wes Hicks via Unsplash
PS: it might not be a one minute tip anymore if it contains appendices, but I hope you find it useful anyway ;)
PPS: Bonus tips about defining direct outcomes (e.g. typical work items):
1) Ask questions until you have a small number of easy to check yes/no bullet points which are currently false and will become true when this item is done. In the Agile community we usually call them “acceptance criteria”.
Useful questions to ask here:
- What kind of …?
- Is there anything else about …?
- How will we know this is done?
- What will we see or hear when this is done?
2) Make the title of the item a concrete and meaningful promise.
Make the promise concrete-enough to be doable and meaningful-enough for someone to care. Even if it’s only you.
If no one cares, don’t do it.
- Bad: “One Minute Tip” What about it?
- Better: “Send the next One Minute Tip to my esteemed readers“
- Even more concrete: “The One Minute Tip sheduled for Thursday, Nov-3 is sent to subscribers. It contains an image related to the main point. It contains concrete actions readers can do.“
3) When describing a direct outcome mention bigger purpose this item is supposed to contribute to.
PPPS: Bonus tips about Indirect Outcomes (e.g. quarterly objectives)
Describe it in terms your stakholders understand and care about.
Useful questions to ask here:
- So what?
- Who cares?
- Why do they care?
A more gentle way to probe at the purpose:
- And when (our direct outcome), what will happen then?
When following the chain of intended consequences, stop at the boundary of predictability (time) and reach (what you can control).
Don’t get lost in the fog. When in doubt take some concrete steps and re-evaluate.
“I intend to create a Digital Garden on my website (direct outcome) to help unblock my writing, so that I can publish all the stuff that has been stewing in my head for the last several years. It’s purpose is to collect LEGO blocks of ideas optimized for my thinking, from which I can later build articles optimized for other people. It might attract like-minded collaborators. As a durable asset it might have other long-term benefits. (several layers of indirect outcomes).”
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