Personal mindset is very much at the core of becoming a strategic thinker and project manager.
This post explores personal aspects such as our actions, our ambitions, and our aspirations – and how they map to various aspects of project management and strategy.
What Our Actions, Ambitions, and Aspirations Tell Us
Someone famously said one day that “We become what we think about most of the time.”
If there is any truth to that, then we had better be thinking about the right things!
But that’s so easy to say, and often so difficult to do.
Somehow we need to find balance – among our actions, our ambitions, and our aspirations. We do all three – and think about all three. But we will get the best results for ourselves and those counting on us if we align all three with each other.
Let’s look a little deeper at each of these three components and how they are a part of our thinking.
What We Do – Our Actions
Actions are like tasks. Indeed, nothing happens without actions – but the best actions come when determined by higher order thinking.
Often it is easier to sit back and just take action. I’ve been there.
Don’t know what to do? Just do something!
Cut the hedges, clean the dishes, organize the clothes.
Or…polish that schedule or presentation, post the notes from the meeting, or attend another meeting.
While actions are indeed important – and often just taking some action is productive – how can we be sure we are taking the right actions? And, even more important, how can we be confident that we are not omitting an action that we should absolutely be taking?!
What Our Goals Are – Our Ambitions
Thinking in terms of our ambitions rises a level above executing tasks. By thinking about goals, we are taking a step in the right direction of taking the right actions.
Projects include lots of goals. We start with an end goal for the project – often called the product of the project – and work backward to break it down into may sub goals and interim products that can be achieved on our way to the ultimate goal.
But how are even the goals themselves determined? Does someone just give us the goals? From whom do we accept goals, if that’s how it works? What thinking do we apply to determine if a goal is good or bad – or worthy of the effort to achieve it?
Just as actions will vary in value, ambitions can also vary in value and effectiveness.
So how do we determine if an ambition is valuable to us, and worthy of our effort?
One way is to think about what our aspirations are.
Who We Want to Become – Our Aspirations
Further up the scale of higher order thinking are our aspirations.
- Who do we want to become?
- Who do we want to be in the future?
- Who do we want “us” to be, collectively?
- Who do we want our organization to be?
This is a more aspirational view of the world.
And if we can do a good job, personally and collectively – in thinking about our aspirations, we will better position ourselves to do a more effective job at determining our ambitions…and ultimately in determining the actions we need to take.
Strategic thinking is parallel to thinking in terms of aspirations. Sometimes it can even parallel ambitions…although the two are very distinct.
So, do we have it that strategic thinking is the highest order thinking? Or not?
I would suggest that while it is ‘higher order thinking’, that does not imply that it is more important that thinking about ambitions and actions. Indeed, value is added at each of the three. In fact, achievement of aspirations by choosing and achieving the right ambitions through effective actions may itself provide a strategic advantage!
I recommend these strategy resources (paid link):
So, thinking strategically involves thinking about what you or your organization aspire to. Who to we want to become? What greater aims do we want to serve? Who do we want to be in the scheme of things? How can we best serve?
When we think about our business model, we think of who we want to become.
When we think about pivoting and becoming more agile about our current direction, we are thinking of who we want to become.
When we think about navigating the change process, we are questioning who we currently are and repainting a picture of who we will become.
When we seek to determine which of the three generic strategies we will adopt, we are thinking about who we aspire to become.
Project Management Implications
In more project management terms, actions are like tasks. They are relatively small and short in duration. They are well-defined. And they are highly ‘executable’ – and that’s how they provide value. Finally, they provide value as part of an orchestrated effort of performing multiple actions – or executing multiple tasks in coordination.
Ambitions have a parallel to projects. The most common defining element is that they both have a clearly defined beginning and an end. Ambitions are goals to be achieved – like projects. Once set, it’s all in the execution.
Aspirations are more strategic – like programs. The paint a picture of a longer range vision – something that we aspire to but that does not necessarily have an end point, like projects do. Aspirations speak to what we want to transform ourselves into, rather that a thing to achieve.
Here’s a bit of a different take on actions, ambitions, and aspirations and how they related to project management. Think about PMO’s (Project Management Office), for example. While PMO’s sit squarely on the execution side of an organization, having an effective one actually provides a strategic capability. If done well and uniquely as compared to the competition, it can provide a strategic advantage.
We can think similarly about projects themselves, as they are right-sized bundles of actions to achieve a particular ambition that contributes to achieving an aspiration.
Yes, I think there is a clear parallel between personal actions, ambitions, and aspirations and the relationship between project management and strategy.
That do you think about the interdependencies among actions, ambitions, and aspirations?
For a deeper dive into these three inerdependent compenents, I highly recommend that book “The Earned Life” by Marshall Goldsmith.