A few years ago I have had an honor to participate in a panel on military technology development. It comprised several specialists from different fields, including IT, Theoretical Physics, Medicine, Disaster Management and, of course – guys in uniform.
It was most interesting to learn how they deal with different management-related problems in the military, especially that the processes they use are supposed to stand the test of the most uncertain environment – combat. As the panel itself was dedicated to an attempt to predict future environment on terms that would be certain enough to justify investment in high-cost technology, my understanding of dealing with uncertainty today is very much influenced by my experience with the military.
So when I come to discuss the importance of setting long-term goals (which is my goal in this post), I’ll allow myself to use a conceptual framework derived from military affairs.
When we’re a looking at the problem at hand, we’re naturally bounded by the range of our vision. We can see the problem itself and the possible immediate outcomes of our actions regarding the problem. Outside of our immediate field of vision everything is uncertain, being covered by what they call a “Fog of War”.
The Fog of War casts two major limitations on our goal-setting, one practical and one psychological. First of all, it hampers our ability to discern the future developments by hiding them under the multitude of possible options. Secondly, by doing that it makes us concentrate only on the visible short-term goals, completely neglecting the long-term ones under the pretense that “serious” people don’t start gazing into crystal balls before dealing with the problem at hand.
The problem with that approach is that having no reference points outside of our immediate field of vision can easily get us “lost in the dark”.
But when we’re brave enough to set some long-term goals, the Fog of War begins to fade. When we stretch our field of interest further into the future, islands of certainty begin to form inside the fog, showing us the way.
This has two major advantages, as you guessed – one practical and one psychological :-). First of all, some of the long-term goals we have set could prove crucial in the future and our preparation for dealing with them will insure success. Secondly, now that we reduced uncertainty by lifting some of the Fog of War, our general future environment becomes much more discernible and clear, reducing our stress of dealing with it.
So remember, even when the future is unclear, or even especially when it’s unclear, you should try to set some long-term goals in addition to short-term ones. May be it’s easier to get credit for what you’ve done today, but if you don’t plan for tomorrow – you may soon find yourself out of work.