I spent a month wandering Japan and following the changing colors of autumn as it made its way south in 2018. I traveled by train and as I sat by the window staring out at the shifting colors, I thought about my recent failures to achieve goals.

Prior to the trip, I had set some challenging objectives. I threw myself into achieving them and failed. It was disheartening. The reason I was unsuccessful was because many of the goals weren’t in my full control. They were dependent on external and unknown factors. But if I didn’t set goals beyond my current abilities or knowledge, I wouldn’t grow. That meant I wouldn’t expand my capabilities to take on similar larger goals. It was a catch-22 where any useful goal would likely end with disappointment.

When it comes to growing your business, much of what you want to do is in the category of uncontrollable and unknown. Because if it was controllable and known, you would have already achieved it.

In this way, our business reality is a reflection of our current capabilities.

After hours of thinking on the train, I eventually realized that you could set controllable goals and still grow. The trick was in setting challenging goals that would expand your capability regardless of what they produced.

For your business, there are objectives that you can set that are within your control and that will cause an expansion in capability.

These fall into three broad paths:

1) Making the unknown known.
2) Optimizing what exists.
3) Innovating with current value.

For most businesses, the place to start is with #2. The Pareto Principle tells us that 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs. That means that every business, yours included, is performing sub-optimally.

There are things that are known and controllable that you could fix, tweak, reinforce, eliminate, or replace that will lead to your next level in growth. And because you’re working with existing value creation mechanisms, optimization is most likely to lead to the kinds of growth that you and your customers value.

It sounds like a fortune cookie, but “Growth lies within.”

Read my original post on goal setting here:

Featured image of Japanese vendors making fortune cookies By 孟斉芳虎・画 – 近代デジタルライブラリー, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34686020