Even when we don't know exactly where we're going
We can know exactly how we'll get there
“I don't know exactly where I'm going, but I do know exactly how I'll get there.”
It was an quip in a longer conversation, so quick it slipped by me before I had a chance to record who said it. But it clicked, clicked in the way that ideas sometimes do. When you're not looking sometimes you find something.
I know that sentence flies in the face of much recieved wisdom in strategy circles. You should always know precisely where you're headed because otherwise you're wasting effort. You've got to have an aimpoint, a target, an intended destination, and a well-articulated end state.
To this point, the paraphrase often trotted out from Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, is that if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. That's not actually what the crazy cat says in the book, but it's what so many strategists like to point out as evidence that we must never acknowledge that we won't know the destination very well.
But do we really know with certainty where we're headed from the outset?
Imagine a conversation with George Washington the day he took command of the Continental Army. Do you think he would have been able to tell you much about how the British surrender would come about?
Or Ulysses S. Grant, as well, in 1861, would he have visualized that three to four years later he would be grinding down the Confederates in Virginia?
Take Ike: Dwight Eisenhower could hardly have known when the war began how it would look to end it, and he had arguably the largest share in ending it in Europe.