Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Farther, The Better

I've written before (here and here) that I love to think about time as something other than a straight line. The notion that the past and future might exist simultaneously with, and influence, the present is both cool and intellectually challenging. I saw the movie Next last night and realized that time and its unfolding also have an impact on thinking strategically and not confusing outcomes for goals.

Next is not a great movie, but it's a good one. Much tighter and more taut than
Déjà Vu, although that movie also raised intriguing time issues (in and among all the explosions). Both movies illustrate the sequential, consequential nature of actions and events - how one thing flows from and is shaped by another - while, at the same time, clarifying that the slightest change, including awareness of past and future, can utterly transform outcomes. Next goes several steps further and demonstrates (correctly, I think) that if your goal is too short-term and specific, you'll end up with the wrong outcomes even if you achieve it.

I've always been struck by how willing people are to plow ahead without first articulating what they want to achieve and why they want to achieve it. You need to think ahead and figure out which actions and paths will get you what you really want, whether you're driving a car and will have to turn left at some point (it makes more sense to move into the left lane a block or two before the turn, right?) or you're trying to succeed in your career or retire when you're 45 or whatever. You also have to understand what a goal really is. Many of the things usually labeled goals are actually outcomes - financial security, teamwork, career success, marriage, saving someone from a particular disaster, etc. Set up as goals, things like this, however desirable, won't by themselves make one set of actions clearly better or more effective than another, and they can easily lead to skewed results.

This isn't news to me - I wrote about it a long time ago in
Madison, Wisconsin. But I hadn't focused before on time's impact on the distinction between goals and outcomes. The skewed result in Next demonstrates that even something that looks like a well articulated goal may turn out to be only an outcome if you think far enough down the road - and so the farther ahead you can envision, the more directed and pertinent and successful your actions will be.

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