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The Onward March of Folly

The Onward March of Folly

Despite all of mankind’s technological progress, some patterns seem rooted in human behavior. One of these is the tendency to grab for short-term gains and ignore the longer-term consequences, even when those are almost entirely predictable.

This attitude has been illustrated this week by the announcement from the Ford Motor Company of still more lay-offs, plant closures, and buy-outs of workers’ contracts. For years, Ford’s cars have been becoming less popular; so much so that Ford has been losing heavily on the operation of its car divisions. You would think this would be something the management would have made a high priority and tackled long before firms like Toyota and Hyundai could establish strong positions in the US market. However, there was some tempting, low-hanging fruit, in the shape of truck and SUV sales, that seems to have distracted management with the promise of strong, short-term profits, even while they more or less ignored the clear but long-term issue of how to make Ford cars competitive again.

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With management asleep at the wheel, its eyes fixed on the massive profits Ford made on sales of trucks and SUVs, no one considered what might occur if anything happened to those cash cows. Along comes a huge increase in gas prices in the United States. Now Ford’s gas-guzzlers no longer seem attractive to consumers and sales plummet. What had been merely a problem—how to counter Toyota’s rise to market-leader in cars—now became a crisis. Hence the panic measures to cut costs and dump non-performing assets, while Ford shareholders have to absorb the news that there will be no dividend and the company is unlikely to return to profitability before 2009, if then.

Of course, some people love a crisis, mostly because it gives them an immediate “high” of excitement. I wrote about such “Adrenaline Junkies” earlier this week: people who live their whole lives in a state of permanent crisis, even creating them if they don’t arrive naturally. The post produced an extremely perceptive comment from one reader, who pointed out the following paradox. If you exercise foresight to deal with a problem before it becomes pressing, people see what you have done as obvious. If you wait until the problem reaches crisis proportions, then step in to solve it, you are a hero. So if you want to be noticed, the answer is to avoid using foresight or planning to head off any long-term consequences, at least openly. Wait until people feel real pain, then step in as their savior.

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Short-termism isn’t the only source of today’s rapidly advancing folly. Another is the fashion for setting objectives based on statistics instead of understanding. In “Occam’s Razor”, I pointed out that a good part of the overwork and pressure that infects business today comes from people either collecting data to satisfy this organizational mania for measurement, or facing objectives that have been produced by statistically illiterate bosses. To deal with it, I proposed “Carmine Coyote’s Cutthroat”—a maxim that reads: “Do not invent unnecessary measurements and statistics to manage anything.” I don’t know whether it will catch on, but it would save people from a great deal of heartache and anxiety if it did.

By the end of the week, my concern with human folly, especially among otherwise intelligent leaders, shifted to the manipulation inherent in today’s macho styles of management. In “Integrity Versus Manipulation,” I tried to draw attention to the fact that many of the management fads and fashionable techniques around today are thinly-disguised ways of manipulating people to do what is probably not in their best interests. Macho management is highly manipulative; alternately brutal and bullying, or full of appeals to heroic sentiments, but always about getting people to work harder and faster to benefit others—mostly the executives of the business and the shareholders.

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Folly seems to be firmly in control today in many boardrooms. By a combination of quick fixes, short-termism, and “management by numbers,” executives ignore the obvious long-term consequences of their actions and focus only on short-term wins—even as they risk wrecking the company by doing so. In reality, leaders have ethical duties as well as financial ones, and many management decisions are as much moral as economic. It’s time to slow down, allow reason to replace emotions and adrenaline-fueled hyperactivity, and start facing up to the consequences of foolish decisions at every level.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership.

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination:

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1. Make a list of your goal destinations

Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

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2. Think about the time frame to have the goal accomplished

This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

3. Write down your goals clearly

Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

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4. Write down what you need to do for each goal

Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

5. Write down your timeframe with specific and realistic dates

Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

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Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

6. Schedule your to-dos

Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

Write these action points on a schedule so that you have definite dates on which to do things.

7. Review your progress

At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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