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wondering Goals…

by | Jan 8, 2021 | Goals, Styx, wonder

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It’s Kickoff season in most businesses, where Goals for this year are described in big meetings with lots of hurrahs and fanfare.  In well-managed businesses, last year’s Goals will be measured soon after in the performance management process where each individual sees how their contribution added up to the success of all.  But how do you reconcile that in years like the one past where things changed so dramatically?  In my case, when I first stepped into this Product Management role, there was Zero Chance of achieving the Goals… and yet, having them out there, I eventually realized that “outlandish” ones drive wonder and creativity into the Team… and me… 

The Grand Illusion was the breakout album for Styx, the first of 4-in-a-row that hit Triple Platinum, and catapulting them into the Stadiums and Arenas globally.  It also was the place the writing really was taken to another level, with a collection of songs tied together into a lightly held “concept” album.  Dennis brought the idea of The Grand Illusion to the band, and that got everyone thinking about their own paths to this point… and it focused deeply inward into their own personal opportunities and challenges, as we saw yesterday with Foolin Yourself. 

James Young started playing piano at age 5, and bounced through Chicago groups around Calumet where he mastered guitar. He joined the band in 1970 when it was still called TW4, and brought a hard rock vibe to every song.  He was nick-named “JY” to differentiate him from Dennis DeYoung, and he is the tall guy with the huge smile out front with his trademark blond hair. He would often clash over musical styles:  Dennis loved ballads, and JY found them syrupy and too sweet, but all saw the wonder in combining both gave Styx it’s unique style.  Hard driving electric rock blended with messages that were deep for those looking for it. 

I always encourage you to listen to the music, and today, the entire album is full of great music with a timeless perspective I find helpful currently.  Man in the Wilderness was written by Tommy Shaw after listening as they backed up Kansas who I have written about before.  Miss America, written and sung by JY, picks up on the Suite Madame Blue themes from earlier this week, and reminds us that our tenuous democracy is always challenging.  Castle Walls talks to how we are all on our own journey of discovery.  Superstars links their wonder and dreams directly to ours… And of course, the monster track Come Sail Away lures us to remember how we set out on our own journey, and how far off track we are…. Or not… 

… all are songs of both introspection and wonder – the journey of thinking about what we all can and should bring to every opportunity.  And a cautionary tale that what we are told to pursue is often a mirage of materialism that leads to disappointment and disillusionment. This is why I chose today’s track for our focus on Goals of wonder.  In the grind forward towards tactical Goals, we can lose sight of what really nurtures us, and what got us started in the first place.  And it is wrapped up in a fantastic set of hard-rocking JY riffs that drive us…

With releases now going more smoothly, I was engaged in the “real” work of Product Management – out running Product Forums across the country.  We would bring together the top customers using our software to understand better what they were actually trying to DO with it – what problems were they actually solving, and wondering how we could make that easier.  As with my role at IBM, listening to what was actually being DONE with it was rewarding and challenging at the same time. The things they could twist our software into were amazing, and the solutions were remarkable and we always came away with the same wonder of my favorite scene from Apollo 13 as a question “You made that out of this and were able to do that???”

And… there was always the awkward part where, after having listened to all these great suggestions, challenges, and demands, I would have to speak to the assembled team of customers and our folks with some decisions.  This would be done, this would not… this is the Roadmap.  The wonder of the Goals could vaporize.  The reality of what we could actually accomplish could again universally disappoint – them, us, and ultimately their customers as well.  I have described before about Leadership being Define Reality, and Provide Hope… how did I balance that dream and reality here in this specific moment? 

… where in your Goals are you stretching you and your team to achieve things that are slightly beyond their grasp?  Not so far beyond everyone that it will break your hearts, but not easy enough that it doesn’t demand… the best?  And allow for years like the one just past, or maybe the one ahead… that is where wonder is needed. The ability to think about things that are missing, could be, maybe will never be… but in even trying, the journey will bring you and the team to levels that are real…and extremely hard.  As I stood there, I realized my role was less Product Management and more…. Magician. I wonder today how to encourage you to try… and not to give in to the doubts and negative voices around you that are actually…. The Grand Illusion.

Welcome to the Grand illusion
Come on in and see what’s happening
Pay the price, get your tickets for the show
The stage is set, the band starts playing
Suddenly your heart is pounding
Wishing secretly you were a star

But don’t be fooled by the radio
The TV or the magazines
They show you photographs of how your life should be
But they’re just someone else’s fantasy

So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you never win the game
Just remember that it’s a grand illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same
We’re all the same

So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because your neighbors got it made
Just remember that it’s a grand illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same

America spells competition, join us in our blind ambition
Get yourself a brand new motor car
Someday soon we’ll stop to ponder what on earth’s this spell we’re under
We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are

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