You can’t get there if you don’t know where here is

You can’t get there if you don’t know where here is

When was the last time you stopped and took a good hard no blinkers look at here? The present. The now. 

If you’re like a lot of the people I work with the easier question is when did you take the time to think about where you are headed. Where you want to be in five years, ten years. Your vision.

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why that’s true. Why the future gets all the love while the now languishes neglected, an inconvenient barrier to progress. And inconvenient the now can certainly be, but as any good navigator knows, you can’t get to there if you don’t know where here is.

Here is your starting point. Warts and all. Which is why it probably gets so little love. Here isn’t particularly sexy or exciting. Here is where all our good and bad decisions roost. It is where the brutal facts of our reality are on full display. And for many, staring all that down can be a pretty confronting experience.

Much more fun to blue sky. To vision. To brainstorm about what could be. To imagine a future without all those pesky brutal facts. Which to be sure is important, having hope and faith in something down the pike is what keeps us going.

But when was the time you voluntarily scheduled a “brutal facts” off-site instead of a vision one. I’m not talking about man the hatches, the ship is going down, everyone get together and try and figure a way out. I’m talking a deliberate and conscious decision to spend a day and take a good hard look at what is. The here. Organisation and environment. Good and bad. Gaps and alignments. No blinkers. No white washing. Just brutal facts.

When talking about this topic and its importance I’m always drawn back to the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale as told by Jim Collins in Good to Great. Few philosophies have resonated with me so strongly, nor been proven out day in day out as I watch organisations strive. When asked by Collins about who survived their incarceration as prisoners of war, Stockdale responded (from the book):

“Who didn’t make it out?”

“Oh that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists… they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

I was reminded of the importance of this point again during a conversation about the role and approach of much brand work.

Too often the work is seen as a creative process to set the course for what can be. Launched with great hoopla you can almost hear the cheers of “We’re going to be home by Christmas!” only to fall flat and disappear under the weight of those pesky brutal facts ignored along the way.

If you want to chart a course to success, to building a brand that people care about, start with what is. Or to further quote Jim and Admiral Stockdale, “You’re not getting out by Christmas, deal with it!

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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