Action Planning and Goal Setting: II


If a constraint of goal forming is that an aim must be within our power to accomplish, then we should think seriously about what actually is within our power and what is not. Prima facie, the things that constrain what is possible for us to bring about are imagination, luck, and resources.

By imagination, I mean our ability to find action plans that will bring about our goal. Many things have been taken to be out of our grasp. Going to the moon, for example, or the idea of a wireless connection accessible anywhere on the planet might be another. Or a machine that can compute high amounts of data in every home or pocket.

Our imagination limits our ability to see how we can achieve the goal. The inputs of our imagination seem to be knowledge and creativity. Knowledge of how the world is help us figure out how unlikely a goal is to be achieved, while our creativity helps fill in gaps where knowledge ends. For example, while going to the moon might have been thought a pipedream, those with enough knowledge can gauge how difficult achieving a moon landing could be and, given the end of knowledge, creativity picks up to figure out how to bridge the gap.

By luck, I mean those things outside of our constraints. For while creativity can form a plan to chart the unknowable, it is always an uncertain hypothesis until tested. And, that uncertainty is what we intuitively call ‘luck’. Getting a computer into every home was lucky because nothing like it had been done before. We cannot account for certain variables, but only do the best we can and hope our creativity got things right.

By resources, I mean the time, energy, knowledge, creativity, money, and other things required to achieve some goal. Knowledge of our resources allows us to make better, more calculated decisions about how we ought to approach a goal. Suppose you have a goal of producing a piece of software – you have to figure out how to produce it. Do you know how to code? If so, do you have time to do it? And, if ‘no’ to either question, is the goal still achievable given those resource constraints?

I imagine the relationship between imagination, luck and resources is recursive, with the action plan needing to be updated incrementally as the plan itself is implemented. Given a stage of an action plan, new information is added, resources are used, and those uncertainties have played themselves out. But a problem remains as to when we are to update an action plan and reassess our goal. In the next entry I want to consider one model of how action plans are updated and how goal assessment fits into that picture.


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