I remember a conversation I had last year with one of Acumen’s East Africa Fellows. We were talking about the faith it takes to walk an unknown path. He shared that his father used to tell him, “You can only see a little ways in front of you when you’re driving in a car on a road in the dark of night, but that allows you to see far enough to eventually find your way to town.”
Much of what the world needs us to do is to walk untrodden paths. This requires more than just courage in the darkness. While we only need to see a bit in front of us to travel far, it’s also true that we could have the brightest lights in the world and, if we have no idea where “town” is, we’ll never get there.
How do we balance knowing and not knowing? How do we avoid getting paralyzed – by trying to plan out every unknowable step along the way – while making sure we have a sense of our destination?
Part of the answer is imagining success.
Meaning, while we can only plan our next set of actions (as far as our lights can see), we can force ourselves to imagine what we will do when that step works out. And the next step. And the one after that.
Imagining this path of success helps me avoid becoming overwhelmed by a really nasty, thorny task that’s standing right in front of me. It’s easy to say “let’s just get this part right, and we’ll figure out the rest if this bit works,” but that’s a big mistake.
Instead, walk all the way down that path of things going the way you hope they will, so that you can have the important and difficult conversation that starts with, “Then what?” As in:
- “We will succeed in getting key players in the organization to make the tough choices that they’ve been resisting.” “Then what?”
- “Response rates on our new mobile phone survey will be high, and we’ll get new data that will be relevant to our driving repeat sales.” “Then what?”
- “The big article that we’ve just submitted will get approved by the editor.” “Then what?”
Force yourself to figure out what happens when things go right, so that when they do you’ve got the next three steps lined up and you can step on the gas. Otherwise, tomorrow’s victory will be a brief one.