It’s the start of a new year as I write this; a special time when people are busy reinventing themselves and starting new things, it’s a popular time to talk about change although I hope this is helpful at any other time when you want to change something or are stuck in a rut.
Knowing you want to change is one thing, actually changing is a completely different thing, and this is what I am here to talk about, how does one go about changing and/or reinventing oneself or anything for that matter ?
Why Small ?
One of the biggest reasons goals tend to fail is due to their size and scope, I am not saying you shouldn’t aim for the stars or have big goals, but rather factor into your planning that a big goal will likely take big time, need big resources and carry big risk, what’s more, if you add another big goal to your list ( which feels good and easy in the moment) you are likely to end up overwhelmed and accomplish neither.
Divide and conquer.
A solution I use and propose is to split your goals into two: a single ( 1 ) critical and well defined BIG thing you need to accomplish and multiple secondary loosely defined small optional things you might or might not do, as long as that big thing moves forward I know I am on the right track, and when the big thing invariably feels like too much, I have a bunch of little things to recharge myself creatively and emotionally, here’s my current list to give you an idea:
Note: It is tempting to add a secondary BIG thing to your list, I suggest you don’t, rather just write it down in the other list as a small experiment or secondary goal, once you are done with your main BIG thing, you can then add that one or another one.
Very often one knows what the BIG thing is, but the smaller ones are harder to define and lay down on paper, how much time should I give them ? How important will they be, what if they are my future, where do I start ?
Here is where small experiments shine, they give you the liberty and freedom to try things at your own comfort level. As such a good experiment should:
- Involve little risk or consequence.
- Involve little time.
- Low or no budget.
- Be disposable.
I recommend you get a notebook ( I like dot grid ) and a pen ( I like fountain pens ) and simply start with a 2 section division like mine:
As the days go by, you would need to come up with your own small experiments:
Things that distract you from your main goal and those things you wrote on the second part are usually great candidates and sources of experiments, just write them down in a different page, sloppy is good.
At this point you can either do the experiment, cross out the experiment or add new experiments ( I have about 50 waiting in line ), whatever you do it is a good idea to keep track of what happened to the experiment, an ideal experiment should look like this:
But mine are usually just single line items, a checkbox and some hieroglyphic to indicate the status ( the second one in this case was postponed) , you get the idea, write your experiments down.
And the BIG thing ? Big goals and projects usually start out on the right column (secondary projects/smaller experiments), and after a few successful experiments and a lot of planning end up being my main thing, as such they sometimes have a whole notebook or even a room and budget devoted to them, having a couple of pages devoted to them is usually enough to get started. Back to small experiments..
You are stuck.
So you got your notebook, your fancy pen and your main goal, you sit down to write the secondary things you’d like to do and try to come up with experiments but you come up dry, you are stuck.
Designing good experiments is hard, just ask any scientist, the first most obvious solution is to simply try what others have tried, a simple search online should give you the most popular things people try on a given subject, say you want to learn how to do hand stands, there are a number of video tutorials and posts available, just pick the one that looks easy and off you go.
In general this type of experiments should embrace the following mantra:
“What is the smallest thing I can do with what I have to advance this goal?”
But other times you have no idea what to try, or it feels like you have tried it all, here is where lateral thinking comes in , specifically I like to suggest oblique strategies.
Oblique strategies consist of a set of cards with a novel yet vague strategy written on them that you then try to apply to your current predicament, they were originally used to encourage musicians to think different and are responsible for some amazing music, their story is worth a read, or a listen.
So if I was stuck thinking about what small experiment to make to improve my lunch variety, I would interpret this oblique strategy as “try opposite flavors“, ( maybe a spicy and sweet pasta salad ).
Where to get oblique strategies ?Buy them: The original onesMake your own : I started by writing down about 50 found around the web on half double sided index cards.Here's a few stolen from the wiki to get you started:- Use an old idea.
- State the problem in words as clearly as possible.
- Only one element of each kind.
- What would your closest friend do?
- What to increase? What to reduce?
- Are there sections? Consider transitions.Note that while some are geared towards music composition, there's nothing stopping you from applying them to your specific problem, just replace the musical elements with whatever you are dealing with, people, food, technical problems, etc, etc.
Small experiments as a way of life.
Or company culture…
By some accounts ( mine included ) life on this planet evolved through a series of small but constant experiments and this is where small experiments can really change one for the better.
The truth is that I really want you (and myself) to achieve that big thing on the left side of the list, but more and more as I grow older I realize that planning can only get you so far, action is where it’s at. Unfortunately action (or execution for a startup), can be expensive and daunting, and that’s why I believe that sometimes ( most of the time ?) only through multiple small experiments one finds the path to achieve something big.
It’s also a good but neglected business practice since very few business models last forever; innovation through small experiments is good insurance against future loss of revenue, and its probably better to incorporate experimentation earlier rather than later.
Why should you trust me ? You shouldn’t ( caveat emptor ), I've tried to lay down here some organizational/goal setting methods, if what you are doing is working ( is it ? ) keep on doing it, maybe even write a post and let other know, if on the other hand you need to change and don't know how, I hope you give this and other methods a fair trial and then make up your own decision.
Changing is hard,I propose a mix of small experiments and a singular big goal, to keep your sanity. If stuck, oblique strategies can help you come up with creative experiments and solutions both at home and work.
And lastly, If you haven’t come up with a goal for this year or period, I suggest making small experiments your goal ?
Thanks for reading !