Weekly 3: Kipling on Project Strategy, Game Theory & Systems vs. Goals

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Idea Journal Weekly 3

October 15 · Issue #4 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

#1. At the beginning of a project, use Kipling's six serving men to help answer basic but fundamental questions about its purpose and scope.
Asking six simple questions can yield powerful answers, as English writer Rudyard Kipling highlighted in a poem at the end of his children’s story The Elephant’s Child
I Keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When 
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.
 
I let them rest from nine til five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views;
I know a person small–
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!
She sends ‘em abroad on her own affairs,
From the second she opens her eyes– 
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!
The Elephant’s Child was published in 1902. More recently, author and creativity consultant Todd Henry has suggested a similar approach to clarifying a project’s objectives. 
In his book The Accidental Creative, Henry recommends first asking the “five W’s” (Why? Who? What? When? Where?) to form the project strategy, and then asking How? to figure out implementation.
#2. One branch of game theory holds that there are two types of games: finite and infinite. Knowing which one you're playing can influence your decisions, both in philosophy and in business. 
James Carse, former Director of Religious Studies at New York University, made the following distinction in his book Finite and Infinite Games: “A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
Author and speaker Simon Sinek has taken this framework and applied it to a business context. Laying out his argument during a talk at Google, Sinek says the best companies are infinite players: whereas finite players play to beat the competition, infinite players focus on their own advancement and play to be better than themselves. 
#3. To help distinguish between short-term and long-term perspectives and behaviors, use the "system-versus-goals model."
Author and Dilbert creator Scott Adams explains his view of the difference between systems and goals in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big
For Adams, “a goal is a specific objective that you either achieve or don’t sometime in the future. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run. If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.” 
He’s writing about individual accomplishment, but perhaps this same model can be applied to organizations. 
Quote of the Week: "There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by."
- Annie Dillard in her book The Writing Life
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