Returning in the Fog

What do a caterpillar and a distant planet have in common? Working with fuzziness compels a different way of setting and achieving goals.


Many businesses have been anticipating the end of lock-down and the return to some form of economic activity. What is clear is that there will be as many levels of Return as there are levels of lockdown. We are neck-deep in VUCA territory: our Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world. Everything we have known about goals, planning and time-based objectives is being challenged. The Military, as the source of the term VUCA, knows how to plot a direction when all around is unknown (and potentially dangerous).

THIS IS THE TERRAIN OF FUZZY GOALS Traditional goals plot a linear path between A to B. Processes support a predictable outcome. Goals are measurable, specific, unambiguous.

Fuzzy goals require you to set a course in the fog, where the outcome is unpredictable because the future is unknowable. You will need to work with intuition, hypotheses and guesses. You will be required to constantly re-evaluate and adjust as you go. This is the heart of being a learning organization, and organisations that can learn, can pivot.

A topical example might be to flatten the Covid-19 curve. Strategies emerge. As more becomes known, the approach will need to shift accordingly. The goal itself may need to change.

For a Gig Economy shared workspace, like Workshop 17, it might be to deepen a sense of community in a time of lockdown and social distancing. The route there needs to be flexible, open to possibility without losing sight of purpose.

These goals are fuzzy not in the way a caterpillar is fuzzy, but more like a distant planet is fuzzy. Until you get closer. Then maybe you find it wasn’t even a planet in the first place.

HOW TO SET FUZZY GOALS: 1. Listen deeply: the world is changing, so are your customers and employees.
2. Embrace disruption: Disruption can be an ally for change, not an enemy to control.
3. Follow hunches: Encourage team members to use their intuition and explore possibility.
4. Evoke emotion: Connect goals to a meaningful organizational or personal purpose to provide emotional momentum.
5. Make it sensory: Make the outcomes tangible. Visualize, illustrate, make models, sketches or mind-maps. Celebrate even the smallest wins.
6. Prepare to pivot: Fuzzy goals change. As you move forward you learn something. With each learning you must be willing to adapt and adjust. As the team learns the goals change.

The flexibility you gain now will equip you well beyond this pandemic. These are qualities required for the knowledge age, where creativity trumps predictability and where our capacity to pivot will determine our ability to survive and thrive in the future.

As FreedThinkers we are here to support you to move through complexity to clarity through the fog of the now.

(Reference: “Gamestorming- A playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers”. D. Gray, S. Brown, J. Macanufo, and thanks to Dan Willis for the Caterpillar reference)

Tracy Brownlee
Tracy helps individuals and teams access their most empowered, aligned and effective selves.
tracy@freedthinkers.com