Confronting Reality: Starting Big to See Clearly


2020, we’re here. It’s a new decade and the perfect time to achieve extraordinary outcomes. In my last article, I challenged you to stop trying to nail everything and risk settling for unsatisfactory solutions before the holiday break – and to instead concentrate on figuring out the right questions to focus your mind on.

Now that we’re back after – hopefully – a relaxing and restorative break, it’s time to start finding the answers. Now it’s about building the lens to make decisions, which we do by looking at the long-, mid- and short-term horizons for both the market and our business.

From my last article, you will have got some idea that I’m excited by the big questions, but actually that is the best place to start. I often talk about stepping past ‘business as usual’ (BAU), and this is what I mean by that. When we’re stuck in BAU, we’re fighting fires and dealing with a myriad of significant and niggly issues – however, none of them are particularly big picture. They’re not about where you’re really going, and the risk is that if you live in the urgent ahead of the important, then you may well find – when you get to your period of reflection at the end of this year – that you are in much the same place that you are right now.

So again, it’s all about what you focus on and how you can move the dial for 2020.

Starting big

Stepping past BAU and setting yourself up for the intentional impact that you want to have this year is all about thinking big – and I don’t just mean that in the contrived, motivational speech way. We need to start with the big stuff and the long-term of where we’re going before we can build the architecture of the mid- and short-term that begins to tell us how we will get there, and what we need to start with now.

Our strategic framework starts there for the simple reason that this works. We start by crafting a long-term vision – where you want to be in ten years.

Ask yourself:
- How clear are you on what success would look like in ten years? Are you able to picture, in your mind, what your business would look like if you achieved the goals that you’re working on right now?
- What would you need to see by then to want to celebrate? What would you celebrating mean?
- What is your vision about? Is it to do with leaving a legacy, some sort of impact on people, or making an exit from your business?
- And what are some of the milestones you would need to reach along the way to know that you were on the right track?

This is always the most awesome part of our sessions with clients, because it’s where the big energy comes from; a clear vision is inspirational. The key though, is to stop and spend some more time there, before your brain takes that initial clarity and dives back in to rapid-fire decision-making again.

Pause on the decisions to look around you

I know I said that the start of the year was all about finding the answers – and you will. However, I also stressed the need for the best answers and for giving ourselves enough of the right questions to turn over so we can produce the best solutions. In our workshops, I often see groups that get halfway along and then hit a “that’ll do” answer. This is where facilitation can really help, as it pushes you past that point and ensures you don’t accept a lower-quality answer. You can do this for yourself also.

Broaden out your thinking and take a moment to understand the external factors that are impacting your marketplace and the world, as well as your competitive environment, or affecting the people who work for you. Ideally, this should be your three-year horizon, and this stuff is your best guess.

You know where you’re going, but you’re not going to know with certainty what else is going to happen. There’s power, however, in being aware that certain things might happen. Here you are readying yourself for responding; you’re preparing for agility. Because you’ve determined where you’re going, what you can see happening now and in the next few years enables you to make choices about what you do.

Look at where you will play – both in terms of geography and target market customer, as well as what critical differentiating factors you can create and what you can be the best at in your world. Then consider how you will win – the unique value you can create, relative to the competition, based on your choices around where you want to play. How can you do things even better for your customers?

From decision to action

Once you have a lens, you can look through that to where you want to go. We’ve looked already at the way that our brain’s reticular activating system filters out the information that it deems unnecessary, to enable us to focus on the just the most important stuff and counter information overload.

The other way our brains support this process is with their unrivalled pattern recognition ability. It could be argued that the human brain has evolved to recognise patterns perhaps more than any other single function. Sure, we can process logic, remember facts and make calculations, but pattern recognition is our brain’s core capability. We’re incredible – and currently still better than any machines – at recognising many different types of patterns and transforming these into concrete, actionable steps.

So, with the architecture of your long-term lens, your brain will start to see the patterns – in the behaviour of your customers and those working within your business; in social and technological trends; in environmental changes; in the moves and mistakes your competitors make that you can avoid.

Working back from the extraordinary outcomes you want to achieve, it then becomes really obvious what you need to do – this quarter and next – on your way to getting there. This lens helps you to prioritise. It provides clarity on the subsets of activity that you will and won’t do.

Ask yourself:
- What are the things you need to fix, change or implement to start you on that journey now?
- What are the things that you can impact immediately to make your journey towards your desired reality more likely?

You might already be fighting fires, or feel like you simply want to hit the ground running and get stuck into that task list that you didn’t entirely tick off before the break, but I urge you to take some time out to plan first. Now is the perfect time to do this and, because of the way that our minds were at rest yet still doing important work over the break, it’s an opportunity that you won’t get in the same way throughout any of the rest of the year.

All the best for extraordinary outcomes in 2020 – and if you need some help with a framework, or constructing your lens, you know where to find me.


This blog was written by Simon Mundell, Founder and Strategic Advisor at Advisory Works.

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