"You can only find things by not looking for them." - Kenneth Stanley
Another interesting link from my friend Luis Suarez. This time the video of Kenneth Stanley talking about his new book, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective.
Obviously, the statement at the outset seems counter to much of the thinking in business and in life. The talk and the book suggest that you cannot often get to the goal. And he uses his Artificial Intelligence research project called pic breeder that has inspired the thinking in his book.
He picks out an idea of deception. When the goal is far away from where you are today, there is no obvious way to get there. And there are some paths which seem to be right but lead you astray either through local optima or some other effect. It's the classic line of "You can't get there from here." You have to go somewhere else first - somewhere that doesn't appear to be related.
He talks about the idea that objectives can lead to convergence on something that is not really what we want - that they don't take us to where we really want to go. He pulls into the idea of group dynamics and collaboration. Objectives might lead to compromise, rather than new bright findings.
Rather than heading for big objectives, people / teams who create new things operate at a level of "stepping stones". They find interesting or useful way points - maybe those way points are their creative output. Then they move from those stepping stones to new ones. Or different people take these stepping stones and move in completely different directions. This is staring to sound like the history of discovery - scientific or otherwise. "Fortune favors the prepared mind" (Louis Pasteur). The prepared mind may be familiar with many of those stepping stones and can try something new from there.
"Those with expertise have the ability to identify when things are interesting." - Kenneth Stanley
I have to think, as I listen to the video, that there is a specific type of objective that is being described. Much of the other thinking and reading on the topic of "goal attainment" talks about similar struggles to meet the real goals of a project, business, enterprise. Often the issue has to do with truly understanding what is the goal - what is the intent behind what someone has stated as an objective. "Implement X" might be fine as a statement for a project, but if you don't understand why X is needed, what underlying problem you are trying to solve, maybe X isn't actually going to help you with that. People need to know the intent behind the goals. They also need to know things like why the current proposal is the right path or direction. Where are the restrictions/constraints we must follow? What can we break?
This puts me in mind of the Cynefin concept of complexity: the environment in which you are sitting is such that you cannot control it. Rather than trying to add control (or goals in this case), take small steps and look at the results. Reinforce those things you like to see, and dampen the things you don't like to see.