February is here, and we can hear the gentle pop of New Year’s resolutions expiring all around us. Like soap bubbles that once were full of hope, reflecting a better future, many of our resolutions are now reduced to a moist residue on the harsh pavement of reality.
It’s no surprise that coming up with resolutions is much easier than keeping them. A 2007 study by Richard Wisemen from the University of Bristol showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, even though over 50% felt confident they will succeed at the point of making their resolution.
New Year’s resolutions are commonly articulated as objectives, and just like business objectives, common reasons for failure can include lack of strategy, inconsistent implementation, lack of stakeholder engagement and cultural fixations. But there’s one pattern of failure I’d like to point out: the search for meaning trap.
When we set ambitious change-orientated goals, we are engaging with our definition of purpose. We are articulating various “happy ending” objectives and laying out early chapters for new, life-changing, narratives. In essence, defining resolutions is one of the ways we explore the meaning of our lives.
Similarly, defining business objectives is an activity intertwined with the organisational search for meaning. When we define business objectives we are exploring the purpose of our organisation and redefining a vision of our company’s future. The more critical the objectives are, the deeper we will have to engage with the fundamental questions about our brand. We will discover that in order to make significant changes to the composite and priorities of objectives, we have to engage with the question of who we really are as a company. That’s why in strategic processes you will find that terms like mission, vision, purpose, values, brand story, personality and other terms suggesting deep meaning tend to connect, raising further complexities and challenges.
This is the point where the search for meaning trap kicks in.