On the Fuzziness of Goals

It’s hard to stay out of interesting conversations, and Dave Gray has a great one going on his Knowledge Games blog. The question is on fuzzy goals, how they relate to knowledge work, how to navigate towards them, and just how fuzzy goals can be in creative work.

There’s an extra image on Dave’s flickr stream here which equates the journey towards a fuzzy goal as a journey. Going picture for picture, here’s a few thoughts.

First, when I think of how fuzzy a goal can be, I come back to the idea of tiered goals, or layers.

Goal fuzziness as it relates to layers.

Goal fuzziness as it relates to layers.

When I think of how fuzzy a goal can be, the first question is this: fuzzy to whom? Assuming we are talking about the people who are in the process, as opposed to those who are managing the process, I think the model here applies.

Collaborators need to be very clear on the goals of the task at hand; the need to know what they are doing now.

What can be a little more fuzzy is what comes next. In fact, too much focus or too much supposed clarity on what’s next can be a distraction from the task at hand, and can lead to rigidity. If you always know what’s next, it’s harder to change based on evidence on the ground.

Fuzzier still are the results, both of the immediate task and the tasks that follow. On the outer edge of fuzziness is “where is this all going?” This is the bigger picture, which in knowledge work is only created through iteration and, as I am now convinced by Dave, progression. Progression toward something broader, which becomes iteratively more clear as each “experience” builds on the last.

To put this into the context of Dave’s drawing of the ship on a journey of discovery, I think we end up with not only the levels of fuzziness, but also the roles in knowledge work.

The core of knowledge work is the experiential process itself and the emergent concepts which result from interactions of people, thoughts and influences. But what differentiates knowledge work from just knowledge or unguided thought is the process.

The roles in knowledge work as we move towards fuzzy goals

The roles in knowledge work as we move towards fuzzy goals

Taking the same labels from the last diagram, we have a person (group of people) focusing on what is being done now, living in the moment and tackling something defined.

To allow these people to truly focus on the immediate task, we have another who can, based on progress, guide them towards “what’s next.” The interplay between what’s happening and what’s next is mediated by someone who guides the process based on the results, and it all comes together as we plot our map, or bigger picture, of where it’s all going. I imagine that this person is a map maker as well as a navigator; they chart based on the knowledge we have, but add as they explore new territory.

So when I look at Dave’s picture, that’s what springs to mind.

2 Responses to “On the Fuzziness of Goals”

  1. Dave Gray
    October 8, 2009 at 9:30 pm #

    Another aspect of fuzzy goals is that they keep the excitement alive. If you always know what’s next you can lose the sense of adventure. Exploration and discovery is fun, let’s not forget, and if you always know what comes next where’s the fun? An industrial business process is like a railroad track: you always know where you’re going. But a voyage of discovery is bound to lead to things you don’t expect.

  2. Brandon Klein
    October 9, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Aaron- great post- I think what is missing in most knowledge work, especially that in big companies is a true captain. With a strong leader, knowledge workers can excel. I think the excitement comes from the changes, the environment, the ingenuity of the captain and the kw’s willingness to adapt and improve with the surroundings.

Leave a Reply

UA-3519374-1 eXTReMe Tracker