Non-Finito: When to Stop Chasing a Goal

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The world is changing at a rapid pace these days. I think of the recent Best Buy commercial that just cracks me up. A guy purchases a 3D TV and the delivery truck that brings it over is already advertising 4D TV! Technology advances rapidly, and change happens quickly. I would bet that 5 years ago many of you were not reading blogs or tweeting. Yet here we are, catching up with the changing culture and advancing technology. Organizations are constantly having to reset course to adjust for change. Issues like globalization, technology, and culture are requiring unique and creative solutions from leaders.

Unfortunately, this requirement stands a bit in contrast to more conventional forms of wisdom. Slow growth, measured results, steady pace, and disciplined action are all values of most successful leaders. We create a vision, set SMART goals, and then move forward toward them with measured results. Is it possible though that a goal can become irrelevant before it is ever reached? What happens when you can see this looming on the horizon? Should we react with fast growth, breakneck pace, and undisciplined action?

I hardly think so.

I was first introduced to the concept of non-finito by the french philosopher Luc De Brabandere. This dude is one sharp cookie. Brabandere suggest that we can apply the concepts of art and sculpting to our current business and cultural landscape. The concept of non-finito implies that we can choose to leave a particular work of sculpting incomplete and unfinished. This is not an abandoning of the work, but a conscious choice to leave it incomplete. An artistic decision that the piece has reached its useful state. It has served its purpose, or become what it needs to be, even though it is different than the original intention. The concept would suggest that though a sculptor approaches a block with the intent or commission to create a finished piece, at some point it becomes clear that the piece needs to change direction, or even be left without full completion. This is hardly failure, but an artistic decision to stop. Any further work on the piece would ruin it. Though the end result may not be the original intention, the sculptor can be confident the end result is the correct one given the circumstances.

I think organizational leaders can learn a lot from this. I believe it is much too close minded to approach a goal where the only option is full completion. Do we really need to measure end results exclusively against original intention? Isn’t it possible that we can be smart and relevant enough to measure end results against intent and circumstance? Is that not a sign of our maturity as leaders? The only option should be success, given the circumstance, no matter what that looks like. It would seem that one of the traits of a successful leader in the coming days will be the ability to operate in non-finito. The ability to artistically realize when a goal has served its purpose, and may no longer be relevant to forward momentum. Choosing a new direction does not always equate to failure.

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