image by Sebastiaan ter Burg via Flickr Creative Commons license

Achieve “Impossible” Results Predictably

Big What

Writing a good challenge statement isn’t rocket science. I like to start with Joel Barker’s paradigm-­‐shifting question: “What seems impossible today, but if it WERE possible, would transform X for the better?” Based on this, create a one-­‐sentence statement that is the focus of the rest of your project. While creating your challenge statement, here are the most important things to keep in mind:

  • It must be focused on the desired future.
  • It must describe this future in a way that inspires and engages the team.
  • It must NOT prescribe HOW to achieve the future state.

Armed with your passion-­‐inducing challenge statement, it’s time to create the fabulous future! But, before jumping into HOW you will achieve the future to which you aspire, you must spend time imagining it vividly. In the same way that the 5 WHYS enriched your team’s understanding of their purpose, creating a “News Report from the Future” describing the world that will exist when your project is wildly successful adds an emotional intensity to what might otherwise be just a shallow project goal. You can also imagine that you are at the post-­‐ project celebration party and all of your most important stakeholders are there high-­‐fiving you and gushing with praise about what in particular delighted them. This activates creativity and overcomes some of our human tendency to “Yes, but . . .” any idea to death. The diagram below shows why “thinking from the future” – what Edward De Bono calls lateral thinking – works better than trying to figure out how to solve a problem by starting with the problem.

As you can see, the tiny opening that leads to the “Breakthrough Future” would be easily missed as we rush hastily in the current direction. Starting in the future and working backward, however, we can easily see HOW to change direction in order to arrive at that breakthrough.