Gradatim. Quotidien. Ferociter.

Jeff Bezos wants to take us to outer space and beyond. His venture Blue Origin is developing technologies to enable private human access to space with the goal to dramatically lower costs and increase reliability. Blue Origin is employing an incremental approach from suborbital to orbital flight, with each developmental step building on its prior work. The company motto is "Gradatim Ferociter", Latin for "Step by Step, Ferociously". Gradually, but with intent.

That’s a great expression of his goal. How are we doing with ours?

Here we are at the last day of the first month of 2017. And I’m sure many of us might use this marker to check back on where we are with the various personal goals and resolutions we might have made as 2016 turned to 2017. The habits we wanted to fix, the changes we wanted to achieve.

I’m sure some of us would be chugging along on some aspects while perhaps struggling a bit with the others; and there could be many of us who are beginning to look back at the goals we set and wondering “What the heck was I smoking/ drinking/ hoping/ thinking when I set THAT goal for the year? How did I manage to go so off-course, so soon?”

I have been coaching individuals - leaders, high potentials, students and executives in the midst of their personal and professional transitions. And this has been an enduring passion ever since I made my own career transition a few years ago, after two decades and some, as a corporate executive. In all the cases including my own transition, I’ve realized that there are three interconnected elements that determine your success or otherwise.

  1. Goals
  2. Plans
  3. The missing link - DMAP.

Allow me to explain.

Setting goals is always a strong first step to achieving what we want, and a powerfully framed goal can be an irresistible motivational magnet. However, goals are woefully inadequate in themselves. A goal is a destination – and sometimes the effort that we put into developing and honing the mental picture of our destination can have the negative impact of lulling us into complacency and inaction. Put more simply, the process of framing a goal generates the illusion that we are well on the way to achieving it. So that fact that we will start working towards our goal from day one, gets replaced with the complacency that we will start working on our goal one day. That's what I call the Goal Illusion.

So how can prevent falling into the Goal Illusion trap? In my experience, all successful transitions from where we are (our current reality) to where we want to be (the goal) involve a very deliberate “Imagineering” (to borrow Disney’s concept of imagining + engineering) of how we will get there. We need a plan of how; actually, it’s more than a plan – we need a map that charts, in detail, the journey and the milestones, and allows us to navigate the route to our goals. A road map to our success. A very powerful device, but again not sufficient.

Despite these two elements being in place, I hear from individuals of how their goal faded into a wistful wish, and their plans remained very much on the paper they were written on. On the other hand, what I find drives the difference between those who consistently achieve what they set out to achieve, especially in terms of personal change, is what I have come to see as the crucial missing link – and something I have come to know as the Daily Minimum Acceptable Performance – DMAP. A simple but critically important actionable idea.

The concept of Daily Minimum Acceptable Performance addresses the question “What is the bare minimum I am going to do daily to make incremental progress towards my goal” – and then proceeds to answer that not through our intellect or cognition, but with our deliberate will and action. It asks “What little step am I going to do today and every day in the advancement of progress to my goal”. And then we get out there and do it. 

No change of habit, acquisition of skill or learning, no matter how well-intentioned happens overnight. So, if we don't set for ourselves a Daily Minimum Acceptable Performance, act and then reflect on the performance, and how we will push the increment a little further, we will never achieve lift off towards our goals. Our rocket would be stuck at the launch pad. And if I were Jeff Bezos, I would be hopping mad. We need to work at it, quite deliberately and in small steps, and with a daily persistence. Or dogged ferocity, if you share the same mindset as Jeff Bezos

Think about it.

If you are setting out to run a marathon, one can’t wake up one fine morning and sprint the 26 miles. Going the distance is the glorious goal, accompanied with all the visual imagery of breasting the tape and thrusting your arms out like a jubilant Husain Bolt. But guess what - you still haven’t taken a single step.

And then you get yourself all the books and coaching and videos of how to run a marathon, and with all that wealth of knowledge and experience from various sources, you chart out your own training plan, your roadmap for success. You might even break this down into plans of pacing, hydration, etc. In fact, this is precisely what I did when I ran my first marathon at the sprightly age of 44. – I had never run any kind of distance ever in my life before that.

But all that goal setting, visioning and planning can quickly come to nought if you don't do the bare minimum, daily. I still remember my first ever marathon training run – a puffing rich 5 minutes. The second day was the same. The third day, I decide to go brave and doubled the time to a majestic 10 minutes. Soon I was up to 15 minutes and then 30 minutes. Before I knew it, I was counting progress, not in the amount of time I was running, but in the distance covered. I was soon running 10km daily, and by the time the 16 weeks had passed and the date of the marathon loomed large I was confidently running the distance I needed to complete the marathon (a terribly slow time of 5 hours plus, but I completed nevertheless). Happily, I have run 6 full marathons and countless 21kms since, and hope to do so well into my senility.

Whether running a marathon, mastering a new skill or changing a habit, the way we learn as adults remains the same – irrespective of the goal. And as anyone who’s embarked on any goal or challenge that involves stepping out of a comfort zone is aware, the secret sauce lies in the magic of the measured doses of daily performance.

Minimum. Acceptable. Performance. Daily. 

So, as you persist with and pursue the goals you have set for yourself, may I suggest a slight modification of Jeff Bezos’ motto that you might want to adopt and action as a powerful link to achieving your goals.

“Gradatim. Quotidien. Ferociter. ” – “Gradually. Daily. Fiercely. 

Here’s wishing you all success with your goals 2017 and beyond!

(PS: If you're interested to know more about Blue Origin, and Bezos' goal, here's a little clip )


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