As someone who is in the business of supporting others to change, I accept that the setting of goals is very important. However I am reminded, every time I set a goal, of the line from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy,  ‘ Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans’.

I am sure this has been interpreted many times in many ways however I wanted to share my take on this and the context in which I am writing this.

I personally find that planning or goal setting is an important activity that keeps me moving forward. However none of us can really predict the future, although some try, so whatever we plan cannot cover all possibilities.

Mintzberg likened the process of strategy making, (I am taking strategy making to be about planning how to achieve goals), to that of a potter who has a good knowledge of her capabilities, her past experience, her market etc. She does not however analyse these explicitly, rather she implicitly senses what she is doing and what direction to take. From this metaphor, Mintzberg made a comparison with managers sensing their environment, keeping open to possibilities emerging and crafting strategy accordingly. This was termed emergent strategy. What is required in order for an organisation to be successful in terms of emergent strategy  is for flexible structures, an open climate, hiring creative people and developing a vision of an umbrella strategy. Then when the unexpected happens, the organisation is ready to respond.

So coming back to the line Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans, I believe this can be interpreted in two ways and both are as equally important in personal goal/strategy development as in organisational strategy.

  1. If we are making plans then we are moving forward. That action of propulsion forward gives us energy and motivation and we then start to see things change!
  2. We cannot plan for every eventuality as Mintzberg stated, and so we need to have a vision, be flexible and open to new opportunities as and when they happen. The vision is our guiding light here and the goals are intended  and can be changed if the need arises, for example due to external change or new opportunities occurring. So we craft our own strategy towards emerging goals and stay aware that life happens and we may need to adapt these goals.

The take away here is that going through a goal setting process together with creating a vision is motivating in itself and can, and often does, offer us other possibilities if we are prepared to be open.

Barbara is an executive coach, change and creativity facilitator and is launching RenewYou Personal Development workshops for women in France. These programmes are enabling and confidence boosting. The first one will be held on 29 May in Paris.