“Top Down” Achievement of Objectives

 In Careers

It’s amazing what you find out in the dentist’s waiting room!

In a recent post entitled “5 Steps to Achieving Your Career Objective” I set out the “Top Down Approach” to achieving an objective using the example of one’s career.

1. Focus on your dream. Start by focusing on your dream or objective.

2. Convert it into a goal. Change it into a goal by defining the specifics.

3. Create an action plan. Now study the goal and create the action plans.

4. Do the work. The next stage is of course to put in the work.

5. Never stop focusing on the dream! Leave our step 5 at your peril.

I finished off with the example of the Eiffel Tower, the construction of which began on 28th January 1887. They started because an engineer called Gustave Eiffel had already built it in his mind’s eye – he had the dream.

When I was in the dentist’s waiting room recently – ouch! – I came across some further examples from history that illustrate exactly the same principle and I jotted down a few notes to share. The original article was in Nature from 20 March 2014 entitled “How to get ahead” and it was mainly about biomedical research.

The main example and two others they quoted that I have amplified below were as follows:

The $1,000 Genome Programme

When the Human Genome Project closed in 2003 genome sequencing cost tens of millions of dollars, but genome technologists and scientists at Bethesda’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) decided on a new objective: the sequencing of human genomes for US$1,000 apiece.

When NHGRI converted it into a goal with specific plans as to when and how they might achieve it, the realisation of the goal was considered so far off as to be almost fictional. Nevertheless 11 years later Nature reported in March 2014 that it is almost a reality, a reality that will “revolutionise biomedical research and clinical practice”.

The Longitude Prize

The idea of taking an objective and converting it into a specific goal is also well illustrated by the British government’s eighteenth century Longitude Prize for a practical method of determining a ship’s position.

As mariners started to make ever longer oceanic voyages it highlighted the need for an accurate measurement of longitude. Latitude was relatively easy, but for longitude, early navigators had to rely on dead reckoning and this often resulted in tragedy. Finding an adequate solution to determining longitude was becoming ever more important.

I can’t think of a better way of converting a dream into a goal than by an Act of Parliament and that’s what the British government did (the Longitude Act) in 1714. The prize was eventually awarded in 1765 to John Harrison for his chronometer.

NASA’s Apollo Moon Shot

The idea of a man on the moon had been a dream of mankind for centuries. At the end of the nineteenth century Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne wrote stories about going to the moon and in 1901 H G Wells completed his famous novel “The First Men in the Moon”.

But it wasn’t until President John F Kennedy converted the dream into a goal that anything happened. He gave an historic speech before a joint session of Congress on May 25 1961 and announced his goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. When he said that NASA didn’t even have the technology to do it, but they worked on the plans, put the effort in and never lost sight of the dream.

At 2:56 GMT on 21 July 1969 I was in a guest house in Newcastle upon Tyne with my wife waiting for a ferry from Norway the next day to bring my mother-in-law to the UK, but we weren’t in bed, we were glued to the TV to see American Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the Moon – what a memory!

As the article in Nature said, “Stating a tangible goal galvanizes the field, harnessing researchers’ collective brainpower to achieve a common aim”. But never mind large organisations like NHGRI, the British Government and NASA, I’ve realised in my journey through life that it works for ordinary people with ordinary aims and ideas as well. So the next time you think of an idea: I want to redecorate the kitchen; I want to visit Madeira; I want to be a millionaire by the time I’m 30 years old; or even, I want a career where I can look forward to Monday mornings, get out the “Top Down Approach” list of 5 steps and get going. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve!

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