Systems, goals, failure & user research

What can we learn from a cartoonist on failure and learning?
A Dilbert comic strip by Scott Adams,

Reducing fear of failure with low thresholds


Sometimes we try things, we fail and it hurts. This may teach us that failure is painful, so we should stick to what we know. Or we avoid doing things. We procrastinate. Which is good for keeping ourselves safe (at least in the short term), but safety is only one of our needs.

We also feel curious, and long to do, learn, and discover new things. How do we reconcile this desire to learn new things with the fear of failure?

One way is to develop a process or a system that is really, laughably easy to follow and/or enjoyable.

Sometimes I procrastinate things because of the fear of messing up. To deal with this, I started making the criteria for success really low. For example, if I need to answer a difficult email – I tell myself that I just need to write the salutation – ‘Dear X’ today and will write the rest of the email later. Or I will just write a rough draft and finalize it later.
This makes me feel less scared of coming back to the email.
 
This low success threshold is one of my systems or processes for dealing with the fear of failure.

Systems vs. goals

This approach relates to what Scott Adams calls System vs. Goals thinking. Scott is the cartoonist of Dilbert comic (photo above). He says that instead of focusing on goals, we should develop systems.

Goals are a specific result in the future while systems are a practice or a set of activities or habits which we can easily continue for the long term. Goals often concern “what?” and systems often concern “how?”
 
For example, losing 10 kgs. of weight by a certain date could be a goal. A system would be learning to make healthy and delicious food, and/or start doing some physical activity that you enjoy for a short period of time every day. This system builds on learning and your enjoyment, so you are more likely to continue this over the long term and get healthier.

Promotion as a goal vs. type of work as a system

‘To be promoted to a Senior in 3 years’ was once a goal for me. I was promoted after 4 years but until that moment, I felt dissatisfied. And a couple of days after the promotion, I thought, “Okay, what next?” By achieving the goal I had lost a direction to work towards. So there was a very short moment of pleasure I got from pursuing or achieving this goal.
 
On the contrary, as a system, I had figured out that varied projects with people from different parts of the world keep me engaged in work. So I started to ask for or prioritize projects with these qualities. This system of doing varied, interesting work has served me for years, even though the context of my work has changed a lot.

Thinking in terms of ‘systems’ has led me on many interesting paths.
How about you? Can you relate to this systems vs. goals thinking in any areas?

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