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Can you remember a goal you didn’t achieve? It would be strange if you couldn’t. Why do we so often fail to achieve our goals? Why is it so hard to stick to our plans? And what can we learn from nature about teaming up for individual success?
When you talk to people who have strong goals, it is noticeable that they are conscious of what they plan to achieve at this stage of their lives. Perhaps they want to get a better job, exercise twice a week, learn a new language, move to a city or get back in touch with distant relatives. Some of them even write down their goals and tell friends and families about them. So what happens afterwards? Not very much in many cases, because most things are easier said than done: “I couldn’t go to the gym because I had too much work to do”, “I started learning Chinese but I think Italian suits me better”.
Very often, circumstances get in our way, and are excuses for not achieving our aims. Professional or private goals are soon forgotten because there is no one around to remind us of our plans; someone who will confront us with the hard facts and not leave us alone, even if we come up with a rather good excuse. If all we need is a sparring partner who we can trust to provide external support and keep us in check, why don’t we team up?
Collective intelligence as a role model
Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta analysed the behaviour of red fire ants when they are in danger of drowning. In their natural habitat, the Brazilian rainforest, red fire ants are regularly threatened by rainfall which causes massive flooding and endangers their lives. Taken by surprise by the water, the ants would die by themselves since there is nothing they can hold on to. However, nature has given the fire ants a truly unique way of saving themselves. Working together, they are able to build a life raft by linking jaws and arms together, trapping air beneath them. They hold onto each other tightly and form a ball-like structure that floats on the water. By teaming up, they become stronger, and are able to survive until they find a safe harbour.
If we look around us, we can also find examples of people who use the power of teaming up. Collectively, they provide each other with helpful sparring which enables them to achieve their individual goals. Think of WeightWatchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, Greenpeace, Rotary International, Médecins Sans Frontières and any number of other successful networks. They all team up! Keith Ferrazzi has written one of the best guides on the subject: Who´s got your back?
How can you use the intelligence of the collective to achieve your personal goals? How can you get organised?
You need to find the right people. This is definitely the hardest part. You need to find individuals who are like-minded and open to sharing goals, failures and successes. You can find these through your network, friends and family. The less well you know the people the better! It’s much easier for people to give honest feedback about what you say and do when there is a certain distance between them and you.
Together with three or four individuals, form a group with the common purpose of helping each individual member to achieve his or her goal. Every member must set a personal goal and share it with the others. The more diverse the group is in terms of background, working environment, career level and age, the better you will be able to open yourself up to new ideas and different views. What is required is the will and eagerness to share a goal with others and set up events to monitor your progress.
Plan regular meetings for sharing. All participants should agree the time frame. These events provide an opportunity to meet each other face to face and generate powerful sparring. All team members should have the capability to challenge each other in a positive way. The dynamism of these meetings can vary. Depending on the individuals, it can be helpful to open up and talk about your fears, obstacles or sources of pride. A positive side effect of these interactions with others is that you will get to know yourself a lot better. The main challenge is not to take other people´s opinions too personally. Even if you are criticised, remember that you are teaming up in order to achieve your individual goal.
Celebrate your success. All good plans start with having a goal in mind. When the goal is achieved, you should celebrate. This is a great source of motivation for the other group members too.
For all three steps, you must remain honest, trustworthy and open at all times! By teaming up and bringing people around us, we provide ourselves (and others) with the external support and control required in order to achieve our goals. Next time you set yourself a goal, think about the fire ants and team up with others for collective and individual success!
Keith Ferrazi, Who's Got Your Back: The Breakthrough Program to Build Deep, Trusting Relationships That Create Success - and Won't Let You Fail, 2009.