Digging A Hole: The Return of 500 Words

Dig a hole and fill it up.

I have been thinking about process a lot recently.  (That is the kind of thing you do, when you don’t have the occupational success you expected.  You retrench and start thinking a lot.  This is why you learn more from failure then success.)  Your process has a greater bearing on your “success” then your goals.  Success is an overly abstract concept that differs for each individual so, let’s use outcomes instead.

If you have ever gone on a retreat for an organization or been charged with coming up with a new direction, campaign, or program for an organization or just been involved in any kind of brainstorming session, you have had the talk about goal-setting.  In fund raising/development and grant writing, your days are consumed with it because of the way foundations now award money and collect data. This particular type of goal-setting is broken down like this:  Mission statement, end goals, outputs, and expected outcomes.

The mission statement and goals are expressions of the problem you would like to solve.  The outputs are the things you will do to solve those problems, and the outcomes are the measures of change you expect to come about from your outputs.

Here is the thing about outcomes: In large bureaucracies, as many foundations and nonprofits have become, the pressure to hit your outcomes and benchmarks becomes so great that people start “juking the stats.”

If you watched The Wire you have heard the term before.  It comes from the way many officers in the fictional version of the Baltimore Police treated their crime statistics.  In order to make it look like they were making progress commanders would change rapes to breaking and entering and murders to aggravated assaults.  Because of funding and individual ambitions they had become slaves to the outcomes.

An individual cannot juke the stats to his life.  (A large organization can’t really do it for too very long. Eventually, it catches up even with the largest and most important agencies.) An individual cannot look at their bank account, see a balance of $100, and pretend they are rich no matter how you try to move things around.  (If your outcome is based on money.)

So, it comes back to your process or your outputs.  How do you live your life?  What do you do every day?

A digression.  Every sports coach worth a damn knows that the score and the final outcome of any individual game is out of their control and their team’s control.  They understand that the only thing they can control is their execution.  Doing the right thing the right way every time.  These are their outputs.  The process.

500 words.  That does not seem to be a lot of writing.  It actually isn’t on any individual day.  The words come easy, but the ideas are hard.  It is in that struggle and difficulty of coming up with one idea a day and hammering at it for 500 words that makes it fun and worthwhile. It is digging a hole and filling it up.  Then digging a hole and filling it up.  Then digging a hole and filling it up.  This is one of my outputs, part of my process.  The idea is to remember to keep writing every day.  That is the output that points towards the life I would like. The outcome is to get to do the work you want to do every day.

I’ll be back tomorrow.


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