Reflections on goals

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

– Winston Churchill on May 13, 1940, in “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat”, his famous first speech as Prime Minister to the House of Commons

Goals are everywhere and of all time. Goals are important. Goals inspire and mobilize resources like no other. They propel people and businesses forward, forward to growth, improvement, and success or the opposite or any point in between. They give a sense of purpose, focus and ambition. Goals signify motion from point A to B. Motion is often viewed as superior to standing still, which is potentially similar to going backwards in a continuously moving environment. Goals differ in magnitude. Some goals are big, vague or abstract. Other goals are small or concrete. Some goals require a lot of time and effort while others are quick or effortless. Some goals require cooperation; other goals one can reach solo. Some goals face opposition or are controversial. Some goals are static and do not change whereas others change and transform. Some goals are close to point A while other goals are far away. Yet, in some cases, before reaching that particular kind of goal, other points or goals in-between require reaching or achieving. Sometimes we know what our goals are, sometimes we do not, sometimes we know in hindsight, sometimes we never know. Some goals we may reach without realizing we reached them or even had them. However, a goal is there to achieve something. A choice to act, realize or complete that point. Indeed, it is a triumph, an accomplishment, and an outcome in its purest form. It is a point where before and after are distinctly different.

As such, goals come in many forms, circumstances and disguises. See below table for a brief overview of several terms related to goals, with their meaning clarified through Oxford dictionary definitions.

Goal The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result: the destination of a journey or literary a point marking the end of a race Aspiration A hope or ambition of achieving something Motivation A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way
Aim *A purpose or intention; a desired outcome

*Verb – [With object] point or direct (a weapon or camera) at a target

*[No object] have the intention of achieving

Ambition *A strong desire to do or achieve something

*[Mass noun] desire and determination to achieve success

Reason *A cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event

*[Mass noun] good or obvious cause to do something

Purpose *The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists

*A person’s sense of resolve or determination

Success *The accomplishment of an aim or purpose

*Archaic the good or bad outcome of an undertaking






The way a thing turns out; a consequence

A thing that is caused or produced by something else; a consequence or outcome

The path to reaching goals and the achievement or non-achievement of goals has certain consequences. Some paths are bold and involve costs in various ways. Some costs are extremely high; in Churchill’s words “victory at all costs”. Some people are of the view that the costs are too high, such as in this case; a number of historians, while admiring Churchill’s determination, argue that “Churchill’s resolution was reckless and a colder, more calculating policy – a policy matched more realistically to England’s actual resources – would have yielded far better results.” (see Grimsley, 2012). This potential conflict is especially apparent when people, governments or businesses have one goal or multiple goals and somehow manage them. So goals and the associated path to reach them may unite and or divide at the same time.

Do people operate in this world without goals? I think some people do, some more so than others. Goals facilitate action for many, while goals may stifle others. The goal-setting literature acknowledges that people who set goals feel less satisfied with their performance than people who do not set goals (see Heath et al., 1999). Perhaps this is traced back to expectations; if assessment of performance occurs based on previously held expectations then there is potentially a discrepancy, which is non-existent for people who hold no expectations. Do people achieve things without goals? Can achievement “just” happen? In other words, are goals a requisite for achievement? And can some achievements also be viewed as retrospective goals? What do you think?



Here are two great YouTube videos, following Dutch newspaper NRC‘s post. The people in the video created something wonderful with ringtones and lyrics that are not really lyrics. Interesting how technology gets and has a particular sound. And how about sound as music as lyrics that literally do not mean anything but we all know and understand? Happy viewing and listening, enjoy!

On entrepreneurial decision-making and how to create firms in the absence of markets

What is it that sets successful entrepreneurs apart? What do they do so well? How do they create markets and firms? Is there any commonality in the processes they follow to analyse, solve problems and make decisions? And what are the processes used by successful senior managers in big international firms? Several studies by Saras Sarasvathy found answers to these questions, resulting in some intriguing insights.

To mention all the details of the research and its methodology goes beyond the scope of this article. So at the bottom I refer to the excellent articles to read up on the specifics. However, relevant to note is that there were clear criteria as to the success of both the entrepreneurs and the managers. In other words, the “models” were excellent.

The two distinct patterns found are labelled causal reasoning and effectual reasoning.

  • Causal reasoning is characterised by presuming given, well-specified goals and finding the best ways to achieve this goal. Also reasonably reliable predictions about the future can be made because causes and histories are well-understood. The environment or context such as the market is independent. This model is the more traditional pattern and used most often by managers.
  • Effectual reasoning on the other hand is characterised by an improvisation process where the starting point is not having concrete goals but the goals evolve and are established along the way. Then the presented opportunities are a result of combining what is happening in the environment and what is possible with the present strengths and available resources.

Commoditization of pictures and faces

Imagine you are a photographer having to compete with stock photography readily available online. Chances are you often lose the battle, knowingly or unknowingly. There are many stock photos out there that fit the client’s purpose. Sometimes clients may not necessarily want unique pictures but simply images that do the job, i.e. potential or existing customers “get the picture”. Why pay and wait for organisation, models, photographer, production and so on? Stock photography is a handy alternative for clients.


However, the market may get saturated with pictures that do not mean much anymore to the public. Think of an online banner fatigue where people just ignore online banners (not another ad!).

So do these stock pictures actually do their job or are we fatigued by over-commoditization?

The answer probably depends on many factors. On one hand, it seems that the trend of generalisation and commoditization of things, such as tastes, works to a certain extent. Knowing that you can find a McDonald’s or Starbucks serving mostly the same food and coffee all over the world can create a weird sense of comfort. The many global outlets attest to this. A similar mechanism could be applied to the commoditization of pictures and faces featured in them.

On the other hand, if you travel to some other place in the world you will likely fondly remember trying out different foods compared to the food you know. For example, eating like the locals and visiting their establishments will tell you more about their culture than sticking to say McDonald’s. This is where generalisation and commoditization of things do not work and uniqueness in experience trumps.

Where is the line between using uniqueness or commodity?

The utilitarian viewpoint points to whether the unique or commodity “thing” fulfils its intent, which makes the answer specific and context-dependent. The upside is that both uniqueness and commodity have a place in the market.

For photographers who lose business because clients use stock photography it may seem harsh but the opportunity in my view lies in maximizing the uniqueness niche, if this fits the photographer’s aspirations. Focus on adding value, something extra, that will help your clients even more than something off the shelf. Who knows, while answering the first question above, perhaps even evidence exists that ads with stock photography are not really effective in x, y, z circumstances.

One Brazilian photographer, who is unhappy with losing work to stock photography, travelled to Denmark to meet one of the models featured in many stock photos. This encounter brings a face to the anonymous model, who we at the same may find very familiar. Mashable reports on this visit to the “most downloaded model in stock photography” but be sure to check out the YouTube video below.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you actually see the pictures that are often clear stock images? Do you think they are effective? If so, do you find this always the case of in certain circumstances?

Related articles elsewhere

How a bird tries to drown a fish

Animals are curious creatures. They can fly, swim, crawl, walk, dive, surf, climb, communicate in various ways, not eat for weeks, sing, strangle, run, lift heavy weights, poison, build, eat only what they need, hear beyond the human’s hearing range, change colour, make incredible speeds, see things differently or see at night, jump, lay eggs, hibernate, live in Antarctic temperatures, migrate thousands of kilometres crossing many countries’ land, air space and/or international waterways. Animals can do incredible things and I find it all fascinating.

Yesterday, I read about this cat that survived a 19-story fall by gliding. How great is that? See and read more through below tweet.

The bird and the fish

The other day I witnessed a captivating spectacle. A bird, probably a cormorant, was diving for fish at the regatta centre in Penrith. One can see it regularly leave the water to allow its feathers to dry since the cormorant’s feathers are not as water-repellent as many other water bird’s feathers. This characteristic gives them actually the edge in diving for fish, eels and snakes because they can propel themselves even better with their webbed feet underwater and to deeper waters.

Also cormorants return to the surface with their catch to reposition it and swallow it headfirst. And this is what I witnessed. The repositioning did not really work, perhaps because the fish was too big. So the bird opted to dive back in and tried to drown the fish. Obviously this did not work. Moreover, it could not loosen grip or possibly face losing the fish. The cormorant resurfaced, seemed to consider its options, and flew off with the fish. It did not fly some 10 to 20 meters further to drop the fish on land and finish the job there. In the end, they separated ways. Was it a show? Was it play? Was it a performance to show us humans to stick to your diet or be peaceful? In any case, may they both live happily ever after.

Related posts on this website
• Happy dog surfing
• Sense of flying
• The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Sprinting and slaloming to the Olympics

For the Olympic disciplines of Canoe slalom and Canoe sprint, Australia hosted a total of four big competition events in the lead up to the London Olympics: National Championships and Oceania Championships. The last event, Canoe sprint nationals, just finished and what an incredible week full of fast racing it was yet again.

Australian athletes, ranging from junior to elite levels, and many international athletes participated in a showdown at these events. While Australian juniors aimed for a spot on the junior teams, the Olympic hopefuls raced for the dream to represent their country at the 2012 Olympics. Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and the Cook Islands were among the more exotic nations represented. Since Sydney is a major training hub for Canoe slalom athletes during the northern hemisphere’s winter, the Penrith Whitewater Stadium was full of French, Germans, Americans, British, Czech, Slovak and Russian athletes, among many other countries.

Olympic year

This year obviously brings extra excitement to the events and the paddling community as much is at stake now and over the months ahead. These events in Australia are the season’s kick-off on the road to selection for the Olympics and hopefully podium finishes, earning much coveted medals. The Olympics represent the pinnacle of sport and achievement, with worldwide exposure and history-making fame and glory in sight.

Although the Olympics is the dream platform, it does not necessarily fully represent the individual sports. One reason for this is that due to quota requirements not all the best athletes in the sport can compete at the Olympics. Some countries for instance have several top performing athletes placed high in the world rankings but only one can go per country. Benefit is that countries where the sport is in development have a higher chance to send their athletes. Another reason is that gender equality at the Olympics is still in need of improvement. So for example the Olympic program includes less women’s disciplines or distances while the individual sport’s competitions does include them, thus there are actually more women out on the water than at the Olympics.

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Organisation, preparation, friendship

Striking is the amount of organisation and preparation that go into great performances. They do not take shape over night but take years of finding, building and creating. Technique, power, health, consistency, mental strength and agility are important components. Surrounding the athletes is a large important support network, from family and friends to physicians and coaches to organising bodies such as federations. Also great to see camaraderie between athletes who often know each other for years, developing together from junior to senior levels, traveling and competing globally. Interestingly, mates are competitors at the same time so yes, there is a way for friendly competitiveness. However, as in life, naturally not everyone gets along or is friends with everyone.

Winning and losing

Part of sport is winning and losing. Sport is ultimately a benchmark, comparing someone’s or a team’s performance to competitor’s performances. For Olympic canoeing, the fastest performance wins. It is that simple. But considering everything it takes to win, it is not that simple. Perhaps this is why a global audience unites watching the Olympic stage. People want to see winners and losers. Winners are attractive to see and hear since they are happy, their hard work paid off and their excellent performers. There is something about everything coming together and great performances are just beautiful, exhilarating, emotional and often breath-taking. Losers are also attractive to see and hear since their hard work did not pay off at that point but we still love them and we feel for them. At least they did it and failed but there is probably another chance next time.

You play, you win.
You play, you lose.
You play.
– Jeanette Winterson in her brilliant book “The Passion

Media action

Sportscene was on-site at the canoeing events with selected videos and interviews below. Note that the selected photos in the slide show above were all taken at the Sprint nationals only. Newspapers, other media, stakeholders, and importantly canoeing fans used and benefited from all the content in various ways, which is fantastic. Immersion in these events was a privilege and honour and a sheer joy being part of the action.

Related posts on this website
• Sports moments of beauty
• Australian Canoe Sprint road to London continues
• 2011 Canoe Slalom World Championships – Bratislava
• 2011 Canoe Sprint World Championships – Szeged

Related links elsewhere
• Big hopes for new duo – Manly Daily
• AC National Sprint Championships – Sunday Senior Results Wrap UpAustralian Canoeing website
• Young guns win on bumper final day Australian Olympic Team website
• Video list Australian Canoeing – videos with race footage and interviews, Australian Canoeing on YouTube 

Calendar for time and space

Where did time go? Swept away by all the rain, wind, hail? If you try to catch time, it slips through.

Calendar of saints

Calendar of Saints: A medieval manuscript fragment of Finnish origin, about 1340-1360. (Wikimedia)

Some years ago I participated in a personal effectiveness program, rolled out throughout the company to comprehensively benefit everyone and set common standards. It is obviously handy if everyone is on the same page regarding the “rules of engagement”. For example if you put someone’s email address in the Cc: field, do not expect that person’s action. If you want someone to take action, use the To: field. It seems small and simple, doesn’t it? But often something that simple does not work effectively in practice and can thus cost a lot of time. How many emails do you get a day or a week? Exactly.

Still I use various elements from the program, which is a testament to its usefulness. One is blocking time in my calendar for tasks and activities besides the usual suspects in a schedule: appointments and engagements. Things easily slip through or get minimised because of pressing things that come up each day. Need to work on a proposal? Review documents? Explore a topic in preparation for a meeting? Develop a presentation? Conceptualize solutions? Placing these activities in your calendar and estimating their duration for a complete activity overview is liberating. The impact of new things coming up is instantly transparent and you can re-prioritize and plan accordingly.


A bit nerdy, my delight is colour coding the activity categories so in one snapshot I see what I am planning most of my time on. I can compare this time to what I actually want to spend it on and perhaps decide to rearrange the calendar before jumping into activities. Also reviewing my calendar in retrospect is useful. My time estimates are sometimes, often, optimistic so insight into real timings is valuable feedback. Besides, I likely spent time on things not previously placed in the calendar. One of the lessons for me is to allow slack time in the calendar for little tasks, for coffee, for a chat, etc. Importantly, create conditions for things to emerge as well. So the calendar is not fixed and rigid but a tool to create time and space.

In recent weeks I have written various posts in my head, partly, abandoned before getting on “paper”. How often does that happen to you that thoughts and ideas are there but do not materialise? Where did your time go? Time easily slips through. I open my iCal so I can catch my time, partly, with the things I placed there. And this post just emerged in the open space.

Sports moments of beauty

Faultless speed is what counts in this world. Whitewater, gates, upstream, downstream, start, finish, boat, paddle, better and faster.

I hear the sound of the speaker, excitement is building. I hear the constant pounding of the water. I see the judges watching and noting things down. Missed the gate? Touched the gate? Successful movement through the gate?

Pelicans in flight

Pelicans in flight

I see pelicans flying in formation in circles above. What do they see and know from where they are? I feel nerves, how about the others? Everyone knows what is at stake here. This is what athletes are training for. With everything that is going on around, this space is what counts. How do they measure up against their peers, against and with the water, against themselves?

Focus, disappointment, technique, joy, drive, acceleration, desire… I see it all through my lens. I value and handle these unique appearances with care, as if trying to capture a butterfly. Easily crushed but of exquisite beauty, an opportunity in milliseconds, asking to do justice to its being. I bring a window to this universe. Here so many elements intersect.

I am with them, all of them, when they come in range, here and now. I freeze moments in time. Moments of exceptional beauty.

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