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Walking Heads

Rapa Nui legend held that the giant stone heads on Easter Island, known as moai, walked from the quarries where they were carved to the platforms on which they now stand. As astonishing as it seems, scientists consider this to be a leading explanation for the statues’ movement. Video (1:46) Regardless of how the moai arrived at their destinations, it’s a good guess that the Rapa Nui tried a few things first, to determine what was most effective.

Effectiveness is the degree to which something produces a desired result. The main message of this blog is that the best way for us to reach our goals, once we have identified those, is to move our focus to the processes that will get us there most effectively. You can see this in sailing. For example, inexperienced skippers will often address their crew with directions like “Someone get the bow line!” There is no one named “someone,” and that is typically who will do it—no one. You can increase your skippering effectiveness many-fold by simply using people’s names.

Another sailing example appears in racing. To be the fastest boat to a windward mark, you can focus on sail trim to eke out a 2-3% speed improvement. Meanwhile, tacking on wind shifts of as little as 5 degrees could make a difference of 10% or more in your velocity made good (VMG). On some courses you can dominate the race with average, or even below average, sail trim by being better at identifying and responding to wind shifts. It is an example of being more effective by focusing on what matters.

Stephen Covey nailed these concepts in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey understood that focusing on our habits is what drives success. If you focus on what is effective (your habits and actions), instead of on success (the result), success will appear as a consequence. Covey’s view is mirrored by Brett Ledbetter’s research on America’s winningest coaches. In his 2013 TED Talk, Ledbetter concludes that the winningest coaches “focus less on the results, more on the process, and they recognize that character drives the process.”

Choosing effective actions can lead us astray if we ignore the big picture. Legendary outlaw, Willie Sutton, famously said the reason he robbed banks was because “that’s where the money is.” That may be true, and walking into a bank with a gun may be the quickest way to raise cash, but it can produce serious unintended consequences. Sutton ended up spending most of his adult life behind bars.

Don't be tricked by the 1st order consequences of your actions. The 2nd order consequences may be more important. —Ray Dalio

If we develop the habits of being proactive, starting with the end in mind, setting priorities, thinking win/win, seeking first to understand and then to be understood, learning to synergize, and growing our skills, success will appear almost automatically. And if you are now thinking about these things, then this essay will have been, well..., effective!