While I consider stoicism as the very best philosophy or system for living my live, I consider the 4 disciplines of execution, also known as 4dx, as the best way to build and grow a business. Although I don’t have a lot of success or experience in business, I can see from my minor victories in the past that when I got some good results, I was actually working in a 4dx way without knowing it at the moment. After I have read this book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling, now I understand that it simply works and I am going to repeat using this methodology to grow my business to get a better odd of achieving success. The following are some key points from the book that have helped me tremendously.
Have One Wildly Important Goal, Two Max
I suck at multitasking. I bet you do too. You may not know it, but think about it, if you have to bet all your money on whether you can complete two tasks, do you want to bet on finishing one task after another with absolutely single-minded focus or do you really believe that you can do both at the same time? When the goal is much more important, or wildly important as the authors put it, it makes sense to have one single focus. I want to make it clear that you can have many wildly important goals in your life. But you should at least dedicate one year, if not two to five, to a wildly important goal, something that you really want to achieve full heartedly. To make this writing more easy to understand, I will use one single example to illustrates the ideas throughout this article.
Wildly Important Goal (W.I.G): Make Living off Full Time Blogging by April 30, 2XXX
Lead Goal vs Lag Goal
To reach a W.I.G, you may need to reach a number of big goals in order to do that. Very surprising and correctly, these big goals are not something that we should put most of our focus on as these so called “big goals” are what the authors call “lag goals”, something that we have very little control of.
One of the most impactful lessons from the book is knowing the difference between a lead goal and a lag goal. Lead goals are things that you have full control, while lag goals are things that you can’t completely controlled, but they are the by-products of achieving your lead goals, if your plan works out. (Knowing what you can control and what you can’t is actually one of the core ideas of stocism, an ancient Greek philosophy. You can find out more in my book notes on Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is The Way if you are interested.)
Very often, you have some seemingly well-defined goals for your business. Most of the time, they are lag goals. Let’s continue on my example, a lag goal would be to have a monthly earning of $5000 off the advertising banners on my blog. But that’s not something that I can control. There’s no way that I can force the revenue to increase. However, I can write more content as an attempt to get more web traffic and eventually have a better chance to receive a better monthly revenue. Here, what I am doing is that I am working backward to find what that I have full control. And yes, writing more content is under my control. So my lead goal should be to write more articles. Now, you can see the difference between a lead goal and a lag goal.
Finding the Right Lead Goal is Crucial, Reverse Engineering is The Key
We are just too used to defining our goals as financial goals and they are, most of the case, lag goals. So, we really have to think about what we actually have control of and whether achieve that lead goal can give us a good chance of influencing positively our lag goal.
All Goals should be in the Format of From X to Y by the date Z
Both lead goals and lag goals should be very specific. You have to know what the number is now, what the number you want to get to, and what is the deadline for reaching that target number. An easy way to understand this is to actually see how the lead goal and lag goal should look like continuing on the example I started earlier.
Lead Goal: Number of Blog Posts from 20 pieces now to 800 pieces by March 31, 20XX
Lag Goal: Monthly Revenue from from $5 now to $200 by March 31, 20XX
Use a Scoreboard to Show The Current Progress of Your Lead Goal
Since the lead goal should be the focus, you should build a scoreboard and place it in a very obvious place in your workplace so that everyone can see whether you are executing your plan. On the scoreboard, you should write down what is your lead goal, what is the number that you are supposed to hit currently, and what is the number you has actually reached. If you can, you should also show your lag goal and the corresponding progress on the same scoreboard but don’t make it the focus.
Check Regular (but not everyday): Is Reaching Your Lead Goal Helping You to Reach Your Lag Goal
The reason for you to work hard in moving towards your lead goal is to reach your lag goal, and ultimately reach your W.I.G after reaching a certain numbers of lag goals. You do have to check regularly, may be bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly depending on your situation, whether making progress with your lead goal helps make progress with your lag goal. If it does, keep pushing. If not, find another lead goal that seems to have a good chance of doing so.
Check Every 3 Months: I have now reach xxx pieces of blog posts, am I getting the projected $x monthly revenue
There are many other gems in this book such as the handling of the whirlwind, defined as things that are urgent but relatively not important, holding the team accountable, short weekly meetings and many more. I didn’t take notes on them as they are not that related to my current situation, but if you have to run a team or you work in a company that has a lot of urgent tasks, those are points that you can’t miss.