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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ambition = Goals + Energy?

In my previous article about ambition, I mentioned a formula described by Dean Simonton.  The claim was that ambition could be reduced to a clear goal plus the energy to reach that goal.  Perhaps not for all of you, but this was a revelation for me.  Ambition had always been a vague word in my mind. It seemed that people were either ambitious or they were not. Being able to think of it in very concrete terms was great.  The phrase, "plan your work then work your plan" keeps popping up for me as the template for what we (and our kids) need to do to be considered ambitious.

So why aren't we all ambitious and driven?  Anyone who has spent time walking through a playground knows that our kids have energy to spare.  They are jumping off jungle gyms, trying to spin the swings around the top bar, chasing their friends, running away from their friends, doing something with a ball. And goals are not that difficult to come up with either.  Sure they change with age from "I want to be a Ninja Turtle" to "I want to drive a Ferrari" to "I just want 5 minutes of quiet time, PLEASE!"

Well, we can certainly improve on the goal-setting function in the ambition equation. Just any goal is not necessarily enough to focus all that energy.  A common (attributed to George T. Doran) acronym for remembering what makes up a good goal is SMART.  A goal should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

So now we have our new equation;

Ambition = SMART Goals + Energy

Attainable answers one of the concerns I had with our original definition.  If kids do not believe that the goal is possible then they are not going to exert any energy towards it.  Attainable also happens to be a relative term and is subject to perception.  Two kids with equal capabilities may view the same objective differently.  The insecure one believing from the get go that he will fail and therefore it is better not to try and the confident one sure that she will make her dreams come true.  We may now need to add another component, A is a function of c (confidence).

Dusting off my ancient algebraic skills, we may write it like this (?)

Ambition = SMA(c)RT Goals + Energy

Relevant is the other key word.  Is the goal worth the effort necessary to achieve it?  Again, we have confidence sneaking in.  How much effort would our insecure young man expect to have to put in to achieve his goal.  Would the confident young woman estimate it the same way?  Probably not. In almost every case the more confident our kids are the less effort they will feel is necessary to reach the finish line and the more likely they are to go for it.  In absolute terms it may turn out to be the same number of hours and calories but perception will be different.  Can we have Relevance as a function of both c (confidence) and e (energy)?  Or maybe Relevance is a function of Perception with Perception being a function of c (confidence) and e (energy).  That sounds more fitting to me.  I am going to guess at the syntax here but you get the point:

Ambition = SMA(c)R(p(c,e))T Goals + Energy

So much for our simple equation...

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