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No, I’m not preparing to board an elevator or wondering about the stock market… This was an interesting conundrum triggered by a recent discussion with a friend. After she told me that she had had a tough time, I tried to encourage her using the old (world?) wisdom saying: “well, you can take some heart in knowing that it can only be up from here…” Her reply was fresh! “Oh no, I don’t like ‘up‘. I have always preferred downhill: it’s more fun!” I had never looked at it from her (skier) perspective, probably because I am mostly a “lowlander” type athlete, the pull of gravity does not enhance my efficiency when rowing. So it seemed to be an interesting question to consider at the beginning of the year in connection to what we wish to achieve and how to do it.

According to some data, as many as 40-45 % of Americans are following the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions.  The order and content of the many “top 10+/- resolutions” lists varies somewhat based on demographics. As expected, our motivations change with age, take the very public evolution of Richard Branson‘s (“The art of self motivation”). Well known for its presence in the music and airlines world, he is now launching the Virgin Group into space exploration (Virgin Galactic), to be followed soon by underwater adventures…

However, the great majority of top personal goals fall under a few categories of action. People would like to:

1. lose (weight), do less (spend, eat)

2. gain (money, education), do more (exercise, volunteering, travel)

3. stop (smoking, drinking, procrastinating).

Seems one could consider these could relate in different ways to the “going up or down?”  question:

– the “positioning” of the goal compared to the starting point

– the action needed to achieve the goal

Looking at all these I’m thinking that, as opposed to downhill skiing, an uphill ride will be needed to achieve any of these destinations, whether at a higher, lower, or same level with the starting point. E.g., gaining in knowledge, stopping a bad habit, or lowering our body weight, all require a sustained effort. No wonder many of these goals will remain just as good intentions: the determination to stick to resolutions can drop by as much as 25 % after the first week of the year! You had likely noticed the January phenomenon if you regularly go to a gym: the swelling attendance falls back to its regular levels in just few weeks. On the other hand, if your goal is to simply have more fun, you could just let yourself “go“….

Although it sounds discouraging, seems people who explicitly make New Year’s resolutions are 10x more likely to eventually attain their goals. To succeed, it helps to approach personal goals the same way we do in business: choosing goals that are important (to us), realistic and measurable, deciding on tactics likely to allow us to achieve them and, of course, executing them! Some even think that success strategies are gender-specific, with women being more likely to succeed if they go public with their resolutions. So, here it is:

This year I’m… going up!

p.s. want some suggestions on how to achieve your goal(s)? See the list published by the USA.gov http://bit.ly/r5sUZ – with helpful links for each of the most popular resolutions:

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A logical presentation of arguments, be it a business or personal plan or a scientific lecture, usually contains responses to “why,” “what,” “how,” and possibly “who” and “when”. The most thought provoking idea I got from the webinar on analytics for driving performance (hosted by the Pharmaceutical Executive ), suggested by Charlotte Sibley, was to consider that “what” could actually come in three flavors: “what,” “so what,” “now what.” 

Indeed, I could immediately relate each of these “what”-s not only with different time frames (past, present, and future), but also with a different tendency, intent, and capability needed to answer it, possibly along the lines: 

  • What have/are we doing?” The question is related to a preference to be introspective and the correct answer relies on the capacity to be analytical
  • So what if we did it this way??” (Shouldn’t we continue to do it the same way?), Asking and answering the follow-up question requires an added willingness to judiciously pursue exploring the answer to the initial “what”
  •  “Now what should we do next???” (Could we do it better?) Asking this question requires the willingness to be objective about the findings and to entertain new ideas and ways to accomplish them.

From experience, the first “what” is the one most frequently asked and pursued, and most science and business operations have good capabilities or at least a pretty good idea about how they could obtain the answers. Asking the second and third questions requires courage especially in a larger organization. Being able to answer the “now what” question requires vision and leadership, and actualizing it is the hardest. This is probably why many either “don’t get it” or prefer to not even ask such question. While all three questions are needed, answering the third one is how innovation is born

So, which “what” is your organization’s biggest challenge?

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