Retired Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal, Danah Boyd, Anil Dash, Raina Kumra, and Angela Blanchard discuss strategies for staying on course in an era of chaos.
Learn more about the 'North Star' philosophy here:
I think from a tactical level, one of the key techniques to stay focused on a big goal while still being flexible is actually almost contrary to Robert's saying. Instead of never being in doubt, I try to favor "strong opinions, weakly held". So I'll tell a team something provocative, but be very willing to be persuaded otherwise. The key is, if nobody can argue us out of it, then we've got a radical goal that stands up to scrutiny, and that can act as a pretty powerful "north star".
You must move through this chaotic, fast-changing world with an eye for an opportunity – focusing on what works and what is strong, using what’s available to build something better, faster, more effective. It is not about choosing to be either flexible or consistent; it’s about being flexible and consistent at the same time.
I recently caught up with an old friend from agency days who now works at a social media platform and we were remarking at the different work styles. When we worked in the ad industry the mantra was "It's not done until it's perfect" and in technology the mantra is "Done is better than perfect". This is sort of the agile development shift we're all facing now: on an individual career level of just trying something even if it isn't "the dream job" to an organizational level of being focused and flexible.
I actually agree wholeheartedly in Anil's idea of finding a contrarian opinion to stress test your north stars. (am stealing that!)
Though: I think a clear mission is more important than a flexible one - what do you think?
So we keep stress testing our "North Star" .... which means it can move. Doesn't that make it not quite a North Star? I'm with Raina that a clear mission is more important, with flexibility on how you get there.
Of course, that assumes that you have a broad enough mission -- that you don't define your mission too narrowly ....
I don't think it makes sense to use a North Star metaphor to think about vision. Yes, a long-term vision has inspirational value, but it should not be static. What is static in my mind are core values. I view my values as my North Star and am acutely aware of how my practices and vision changes over time, even when my core values do not. When new situations challenge me, I look to my values to make sure that I'm still on track. I see reflexivity as a key tool to making sure that I'm aligning my actions and vision with my values.
I'm with danah. Values and purpose sustain as we navigate chaotic climates. What keeps me clear is a set of beliefs about people and the world we live in. The “how” changes constantly as learning occurs, as new information comes to us, as experimentation pays off. What doesn’t change is the “why” of our work. That’s the North Star. I think this true for the individual and true for the organization. You know you are in clear "why" territory if you can finish the sentence "we exist to..." in ten words or less! The election today could radically shift the context for the work I do one way or another. But my purpose does not change; nor does the intent of the agency. We just go to work and seek a new route.
My personal mission statement is: "Make the world a better place through research and knowledge." To get there, I believe in honesty, transparency, and tolerance. In general, I believe that I should take actions that leave the world better off because of me. And when I do interventions, I follow a "Do no additional harm" mantra.
I've worked at several places that had a clear mission, and some that had vague missions, or outdated missions. The places where the mission statement was emblazoned on a wall where everyone could see it everyday had more cohesion around the "why we do what we do" and the places that didn't always had an "identity project" of some kind going on. I personally, need to align with a mission before I set out to do anything big. In my last gig, the mission was to "Inform & Engage People around the world with information that helps them live better lives" we gathered a group of smart folks and added the word "connect" into our mission statement to update it (Inform, Engage & Connect). This word was key to baking digital into the mission.
Finding a consistent north star—what the Army calls “staying on azimuth”—is both personal and, by extension, organizational. On your own, it’s important to decide certain things upfront - who you are and what sort of leader you want to be. There are things you will need to always do, and more importantly, things you will never do. Having guideposts established, and the discipline to abide by them, is critically important to staying on course--particularly when buffeted by inputs. This is where relationships are key: put people around you whom you trust and then over-communicate with them. The more you do, the more they’ll understand your intent and act like bumpers in bowling—if you stray, they can help you perceive and course-correct.
Thanks for your feedback! Team Branch