Goal Tree Chronicles: can I have more than one goal?

I started publishing on the Internet in 1998 with the available means at that time. My undertaking had several purposes and expected benefits, but it was all intuition and nothing thoroughly planned.

Years after, knowing the Goal Tree and being fan of the Logical Thinking Process, reflecting about my author debut, I wondered if a Goal Tree can have more than one goal.

Choosing the easiest way I asked my mentor and friend Bill Dettmer instead of giving it a personal thought.

His response, wise as usual, was: “Multi-tasking doesn’t work. It dilutes focus and effort (../..) If you have what appear to be multiple goals, what you more likely have are Critical Success Factors to a higher, as-yet-undefined single goal. If you find such a situation, pose the question, “What higher level SINGLE outcome are all these multiples there to achieve?” That inevitably gets people thinking of one goal.”

I found myself a bit stupid. Would I have invested some minutes, I could have come to this obvious conclusion myself.

Yet I got a bonus. Bill continued his explanation with a Tour de France (our famous bicycle race) metaphor: “I liken the goal to the finish line of a race. There are never multiple finish lines.”

Full stop.

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3 thoughts on “Goal Tree Chronicles: can I have more than one goal?

  1. I’ve come to the same conclusion, but by a different route.

    Sometimes it’s very difficult to articulate one’s goal. Top-down goal-definition activities (such as crafting a “mission statement”) often result in a goal statement that feels artificial. It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel real. It seems to miss the point.

    I’ve been using the Evaporating Cloud to “discover” my goals that I already know intuitively and implicitly. Basically I look at any two tasks or projects that I need to do. On the surface they can appear to be completely unrelated:
    “Feed the cat” vs “Complete the code”
    “Clear my email” vs “Drive to the mountains”
    “Go to the dentist appointment” vs “Prepare the presentation for tomorrow’s meeting”

    Even though they may appear to be unrelated independent tasks, they never are. The common thread is always ME. And I can only ever do ONE THING at a time.

    Putting things like this into a cloud might not be a very practical way to get an immediate answer. But as a thought exercise, it can be very helpful to discover my implicit goals.
    D: Feed the cat
    D’: Complete the code
    B: The cat will starve if I don’t feed it.
    C: My customers and my job will suffer if I don’t complete the code.
    A: ??? What is the common thread that connects B and C?

    When looking at such a cloud, here is the first question that occurs to me: “Is there really a conflict?” I can’t do both tasks first, but does it matter? Do I have time to get both tasks done? Usually, yes. So there is no conflict.

    But let’s imagine I really don’t have time to do both. I can only choose one. This forces me to identify the common goal, so that I can complete the cloud.

    I could be very general and say something like this:
    A: I have a happy life

    But usually such broad, generic goals don’t really tell me much. It’s worth the effort to find a goal that’s closer to B and C. Maybe something like this:
    A: Everyone who relies on me is happy and healthy.

    That seems close enough. So I work with it. I start surfacing assumptions, especially looking at B>A and C>A:
    B>A: The cat must eat every day to stay healthy.
    B>A: I should not force the cat to rely on other people to be fed.
    B>A: I should not force the cat to hunt for its own food.
    C>A: I want people to be able to rely on me.
    C>A: I want a reputation as a reliable person.
    C>A: Late code will make my customers unhappy.
    C>A: Late code will make my employer unhappy.

    At this point, something jumps out at me. Feeding the cat is a small thing that must be done daily. Why is it pressing on my mind at all? It should be a habitual thing that just happens in the background. All of that should simply be automatic, so I can focus on the more challenging, creative work like coding. If I allow regular maintenance things like feeding the cat to disrupt me, it’s a sign I haven’t established good basic habits. So the injection is to fix my daily routine so the cat is always fed and I never need to worry about it. This frees up my time and attention to focus on the things that really need more focus and attention.

    OK, at that point, the cloud process clarified my thinking. But that was just a thought exercise. The purpose was to discover the implicit goal: “Everyone who relies on me is happy and healthy”. So I add that to my “master goal tree”.

    Is it the “final” goal? At this point, I cannot tell. I must keep looking at similar conflicts. Over time, patterns begin to emerge. A hierarchy of goals appears. Goals combine to serve a larger goal. Ultimately there is only one goal — one finish line — and all the other goals in the hierarchy are the Critical Success Factors.

    I also use the same method with two intermediate goals, instead of two tasks. The Cloud helps clarify the common goal.

    It works best when the two tasks are both significant, and both really irritating me, and there is a real bothersome conflict hiding underneath. But it can also work with simpler, more trivial examples like “feed the cat”. 🙂

    I suppose I could have made this comment much shorter simply by saying: The logic behind the Evaporating Cloud implies that there is always only one goal. But it’s often implicit, undiscovered. The Cloud helps bring it to light.



  2. Hi Chris,
    One of the most annoying (and potentially confounding) aspects of any planning process, but particularly strategic planning in a business context, happens to be the interchangeablity of the words that people often rely on to get at and deal with very important notions. One of the most – if not the most – important notions has to with desired/targeted outcomes or states-of-being. I say this because all too often when listening to people communicate details related to these outcomes or states-of-being, they will use words or phrases such as… goal, strategic/tactical objective, mission, purpose, vision, targeted future-state… in an interchangeable fashion. Or alternately, they will use one word such as “goal” to mean or imply any or all of the other words/phrases just mention; possibly in the form of ultimate/final goal, intermediate/secondary goal, larger/smaller goal, common goal, etc. And, as a result, it can become rather difficult to obtain a clear a sense of where some strategic or tactical initiative might reside along some continuum of priorities

    When any individual or group is undertaking either a strategic planning or decision-making endeavor such as might be undertaken via the use/application of the Logical Thinking Process it would be very beneficial to all to begin the process with a discussion of CONTEXT by asking and answering questions such as:
    1) What’s driving the need for this planning/decision-making process?
    2) What would be the ideal outcome and why?
    3) Is that outcome something that has a short/near-term or a longer-term impact/intent?
    4) What is the term/word “goal” being used to refer to (i.e., elaborate on the use of the word)? And where does that “goal” fit on a scale of relative importance when compared to other existing near and longer-term “goals?”
    5) Who or what is being most impacted or influenced by achieving the goal?
    6) What makes this particular goal so important? And what would be the impact/result if the goal were to be unattainable?

    Based on my experience in the realms of planning and decision-making, having answers to these questions can – and does – go a long way to avoiding the potential confusion that’s all-to-often imparted on a planning and/or decision-making initiative by the flippant/casual use of certain words… such as those mentioned above. For example, when it comes to employing the Evaporating Cloud methods/tool/technique, the notion that there’s only ever one “goal” carries with it the potential need to ask… what does that really mean, under what circumstances, how did it come into implicit being (as an absolute), and how can it possibly exist if it’s yet to be discovered? In essence, where does the CONTEXT for using this word exist, and how can it be clearly and comprehensively established at the beginning of any planning or decision-making endeavor?


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