A Goal to Explore Out of the Box

By Kevin Meyer

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow. – Ralph Emerson

It’s that arbitrary time of the year when many folks reflect on the past and set goals for the coming year.  I enjoy reading how other people in the Lean world approach this activity as planning, hoshin, and reflection, hansei, are core components of Lean.  Karen Martin just went into hers with some nice detail, and I especially like the ritualistic aspect of her process.  Matt May has described his in the past as well, with a nod to Seth Godin’s “shopping list” concept.

I have a similar process that I’ve alluded to in a few previous posts.  Each year toward the end of December my wife and I take a vacation to someplace nice and quiet.  Instead of playing tourist to visit a bunch of new places like we usually do in the summer, this trip is purposely to have some R&R, reconnect, and recenter.  This latest one, from which I returned just last night, was two weeks at a beach house on Nevis, with nothing to do except relax, eat, talk, and watch the sunset.  And, for me, perform my annual ritual.

I take a look at my journal – a well-worn Moleskine (usually volumes 1, 2, and 3 by the end of the year), compare the plan to what happened, read the notes, and generally reflect on the year.  Although the process has weekly, monthly, and quarterly components, the end-of-year reflection is the most intense.  What did I achieve, what did I miss, what countermeasures do I need to put into place, and what should I do the next year.

This is all fairly standard, and many folks do it.  It eventually turns into what I call “My Shibumi” – after Matt May’s book, The Shibumi Strategy, and also because it somehow makes me think of My Sharona by The Knack, a band I unexpectedly partied with a couple decades ago.  I create key goals for the upcoming year, usually a couple each in categories such as physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and professional.

But the most important goal I set is my “do something different” goal.  This is the one that stretches me out of my comfort zone, challenges my perspectives and biases, and helps turn me into a well-rounded human and citizen of the planet.

I’ve had this type of annual goal for about twenty years, initially informally but very formal for the past decade or so.  Earlier ones were fairly physical, like ski five European countries in six days, learn to windsurf, dive, and hang glide, and run a full marathon.

As I’ve become older they have become more intellectual, such as a deep dive into Buddhism and last year’s exploration of the history of the Bible.  I read over a dozen books on the topic, and it really opened my eyes to the complexity of the 500,000 variants resulting from intentional and unintentional translation and transcription errors, Church politics, and archeological methods.  I’ve also learned to program HTML, rebuilt a 1973 Triumph Spitfire, explored being vegan and vegetarian (ending up as a “pescatarian” for the past decade), and quit a great job at a great company to do my own thing.

I’m by far not the only one that creates such annual stretch goals.  Consider Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.  He has had goals to learn Mandarin, meet a new person each and every day, only eat meat he butchered himself, and write one thank you note each day.

He choses the goal after an analysis of the gap between where he is and where he wants to be.  A key outcome is that he learns something new, and often unexpected. Trying to learn Mandarin taught him that he didn’t listen well and a year of killing animals made him consider becoming vegetarian. The goal to meet a new person each day, which he achieved by giving face-to-face chats at schools, helped him understand the personal side of problems with immigration policy. Those secondary effects are often more important and meaningful than the original goal itself.

So what’s my goal for 2016?  I toyed with the perennial “get into shape” but after only a couple months on Paul Aker’s Lean Health program, I’ve lost over 15 pounds and am in the best shape I’ve been since the 1990s.  If you want to get into shape by leveraging Lean, get his new book.  I also thought about a deep dive into minimalism and simplicity, but my wife and I have been doing that at a less intense level for several years so I decided it wasn’t radical enough. The slow and steady improvement was working well.  I’ve wanted to finish a book on the nexus of Lean and Zen, but I pretty much did that also while on Nevis (stay tuned!), so that’s out.

One Hundred Years of SolitudeI’ve decided on another intellectual pursuit to broaden my horizons.  I’m going to read one of the top works of literature from each of the major ethnic groups or geographical areas – European, Latin American, Chinese, Hindustani, Arabic, African, and so forth.  It should work out to roughly one a month.  I’ve decided to start this month with Latin American.  Since I’ve already read several books by Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel Prize winner I met in Peru many years ago, the first one will be One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, also a Nobel Prize winner.

How will you explore out of the box this year? Perhaps more importantly, how will you ensure you actually do it, and why?  You’ll probably be amazed at what you learn about yourself – and the world.

2 Comments

  1. Jon Miller

    January 3, 2016 - 12:40 pm

    That’s a great book. In terms of magical realism, I doubt it can surpass the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Or maybe I am confusing it with surrealism.

    The Zuckerberg examples are good illustrations of “learning about the box” or one’s own biases and weaknesses. The trick is not to just spend some time outside of the box but to change the size and shape of it to accommodate new and better ways of thinking.

  2. juanpi

    January 5, 2016 - 2:35 pm

    You should also try Eduardo Galeano, Las venas abiertas de America Latina.