On Knowing Your Purpose

Tom Peters tells a story about Lee Iacocca that demonstrates Iacocca knows purpose and when now begins. One day Iacocca went to his chief engineer and said, “I want to add a convertible to our line.”

The engineer responded, “Yes sir. We can have a design ready for you in about nine months.”

Iacocca fired back, “No! You don’t understand. I’ve made a decision. I want action. Take a car and saw the damn top off.”

Whether true or not, this story emphasizes the dispatch that should follow immediately upon naming a goal. It also highlights one of Peters’ central themes about management styles: The difference between patience and purposeful impatience.

In the contemplative stage, patience strengthens the odds of a correct choice. The maxim, “Think before you decide” is unassailable common sense.

Patience serves us again during setbacks or slow periods. It provides time to remember that not everything goes according to plan and to notice that opportunities sometimes arrive disguised as problems.

Between contemplation and the occasional pauses, when committed and working your plan, purposeful impatience is the best mode. It keeps you focused and pushing.

Knowing your purpose and effectively communicating it to everyone involved are essential. You then have the power to be direct and energetic, and the steadiness to be patient when the situation warrants. Sometimes it is futile to try to move things along faster. Thus, know your purpose. Keep that focus. This will deliver up time to make better choices, energy for action, and patience when needed.

When you stay focused on your purpose, months or years of setbacks become insignificant. Consider former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. He started his teams working on a new play he called “the fast break.” At first, people were quick to doubt he could ever be successful with it. It seemed so odd. And, for a few years he wasn’t successful. But Wooden knew his purpose and had the faith of patience. He accepted mistakes as part of the learning process. While not happy when the technique failed, he knew every opportunity for failure was an equal opportunity for success.

Today every basketball team in the world uses the fast break – now called “the transition game” – as an integral part of its game strategy.

Wooden’s strength of purpose defines the patience Peters advocates, just as Iacocca’s dispatch defines purposeful impatience, which is its counterpoint. The two skills complement each other, though they can never be used at the same time.

The feature they share is a sense of now. In both, time is an active component, an ally. The distinction is that in patience you are in steady time; and in purposeful impatience you are in fast time.

The difficulty for some is the misconception that being patient means you are weak. Not so. Choosing to be patient is never a weakness if you know your purpose. Patience is not apathy.

Take the football coach who decides he wants to open with a particular set of plays, as Bill Walsh always did. Walsh, the “Genius” behind the San Francisco 49ers winning decade of the 1980s, scripted the first 20 plays of each game and held to them. If some backfired, he didn’t retreat from his game plan. Unexpected setbacks should not pull you off your game plan. Go with what you know to be a solid, rational approach. Stay calm, and determined.

Other times call for a reassertion of purposeful impatience. If, for instance, your goal is to discover gas and oil, there certainly is research and fact-finding to do, but the only way to actually find gas and oil is to drill. Sometimes the test well proves the research wrong, but it’s more productive to identify faulty information than it is to endlessly cultivate research which contains no proof.

Iacocca had an instinctual understanding of that and at times he was accused of leap-frogging or being brazen; yet, no one ever accused him of dilly-dallying.

No amount of paper information or outside authority replaces the energy of knowing your purpose. Nothing else times your effort in the same way or acts as a natural energizer.

Contact Dr. Jim Tunney

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