Beacons in the Fog and Catalyzing Statements
Midway through my career I was working for an incredibly shrewd and successful businessman named Ladd Christensen. One day, in a moment of frustration, he called me into his office and bellowed, “Rich, define ‘entrepreneurship!’” I rattled off some lame textbook answer, and he responded, “Wrong. Wrong! Entrepreneurship is having the courage to wander in the fog.”At the time I didn’t really buy it. My style was to move from point A to point B in as direct a line as possible. I was (and still am) a goal-setter, and wandering aimlessly held no appeal; in fact, it seemed antithetical to getting where I wanted to go, either in business or in life.
Although I disagreed strongly with Ladd at the time, the point of his tirade became much more clear years later when I read an article by a well-known educator and religious leader who told how he had once asked for clarity from his file leader on an assignment and received what initially seemed to be a puzzling response:
He [told me], “The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.” I replied that [yes] I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Edge of the Light,” BYU Today, March 1991, p. 000)
Despite my natural inclination to always want to know exactly where I’m headed, I’ve learned that, whether we’re talking about starting a business, completing a complex project our boss has given us, or helping a trying teen get through high school, our lives inevitably involve some wandering in the fog. Very seldom do we have a crystal ball showing us every step we should take and everything that is going to happen.
Finding Our Beacon in the Fog
It is one thing to wander aimlessly, which some of us, unfortunately, do. It’s a very different matter to identify and set our sights on what I call a big, audacious goal, which becomes our “beacon in the fog.” With that beacon firmly in mind, we are far better equipped to head into the darkness, knowing we may not always be able to see where we’re going with crystal clarity, but still knowing where we’re headed. Airline pilots do this all the time. They barrel through storms and massive cloud banks at 500 miles per hour, unable to see ten feet in front of them, and we passengers are accepting of this insanity because we know they are fixed on a clearly identified bearing.
If we’re smart, we do the same thing. We start out with a big goal to guide us, and every once in a while we hit a smaller goal, which provides a break in the fog that lets us catch sight of our beacon before we take those next steps into the darkness. The process is more messy and risky than it is clean, pristine, planned, and calculated. But if you have a solid, clearly defined beacon in the fog to move toward—and a foundation to travel on—then you will arrive at your destination, just as you’ve planned. But only after some inevitable zigzagging!