Defining a system vs a goal is the process of working out what vehicle is going to propel you forwards and increase your odds of being successful as opposed to defining exactly what it is you want to achieve. So, for example, if you wanted to lose weight you could set the goal of losing 10lbs in 2 months or you could use a systems approach of educating yourself on healthy food choices. In this instance the system is substituting knowledge for willpower and, as we all know, willpower is always a poor bet for us.
Whilst setting a goal defines a clear outcome to work towards, critics point out that it leaves you in a state of near constant failure – you strive towards a goal and when you get there set another (This is something I’ve discussed elsewhere on the blog, describing success as fleeting and transitory, which may be part of its appeal).What’s more you may miss out on things better than your goal as you weren’t aware of it. Systems on the other hand can be immensely positive as you celebrate small win after small win and they open you to opportunities as you aren’t chasing one defined thing, instead your general progress puts you in the frame for success in areas you may have not considered if you were setting a goal.
This description really hit it home for me as I realised that so many of my career jumps have come from areas that I didn’t expect and couldn’t have predicted, instead of setting a goal of reaching certain positions, general improvements in my ability, visibility and network afforded me larger opportunities. This was a great revelation as it confirmed that I had been operating with an accidental systems approach in my career for a while now.
Regular readers may remember my post on ‘Staying in Motion’ where I actually ended up laying out a reasonable description of a systems approach, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. On reading around the systems concept I came across an implementation idea that fits nicely with this theme, known as ‘no zero days’. This is essentially the commitment to doing something, no matter how small, every single day which will move you forwards in your development. This could be as simple as one pull up or one line of writing but will typically turn into a full gym session or chapter. I love this idea and will be implementing it from here on in. I encourage you to do likewise.
So how to pull all this together? Am I saying we should all abandon our goals and just use systems from now on? Not at all, if you have a distinct goal then define it and work towards it, where I see systems as having huge potential is where you know your purpose and your strengths but aren’t clear yet on how to apply them. Here you can define a system for improving your crafts and in doing so increase your chances of successes down the line. I also see no reason why the two can’t work in harmony, define a goal and create a system to get you there. Move towards that goal whilst being aware of other opportunities, redefine goals as you go and stay open minded. Progress is rarely a straight line!
Remember a systems approach is just moving you from a place of low odds to a place of high odds and this process requires daily dedication. So define your system and commit to no zero days. I’m sure you’ll be amazed by how ‘lucky’ you start getting.
If you’d like to read more on the systems approach then have a look at the following: