The Case for Current Reality

David Allen
If you want to know which way to go, there are two things you must know: where you are going, and where you are. If you’re looking at a map to get somewhere, it is as critical to pinpoint your current location, as it is your destination.

The lack of a sufficiently identified and accepted present reality can undermine the achievement of the clearest desired goal. In my work with thousands of people over the years, I have helped resolve some of the thorniest situations and kick-started some of the most “stuck” projects, simply by bringing to light an objective inventory of the current and relevant data. How much money there really is in the bank. How many customers there really are. How the individuals on the team really feel. What the competition is actually doing. How many people have actually been laid off in the last six months. The actual graph of revenues over the last five years. Etc.

Companies, departments, and individuals may have big goals, even well expressed, and yet there can be a lack of energy, or a lack of real actions being defined and in motion. Groups bicker about the smallest things and can’t seem to get in gear. And the biggest problem about this is that they don’t know what the problem is. They are probably trying to build a house on sand. There’s no stake in the ground. There’s no traction.

There is magic in getting clear about “what is.” It’s why:

  • Executives need the numbers
  • Saying “everyone who’s important is leaving the company,” (the drama) creates negative contraction and “Beth Smith said she was thinking of another career” (the data) allows a productive direction
  • Good relationships start with curiosity (about what’s true) instead of control (about what should be true)
  • Keeping team spirit going in times of change requires frequent updates of what’s really going on
  • Capturing, tracking, and reviewing all your commitments, projects, and actions transform a sense of overwhelm into an experience of relaxed control
  • Acknowledging that you’re scared begins to transcend the fear
  • Acceptance (vs. resistance) is the first action of spiritual growth

The great challenge is to face current reality head on without letting it “get to you” and cause you to program the next one as no better. Bean counters are a critical component to the team. You need to know how many beans you have. But if all you’re doing is just protecting your current beans, soon you may not have any more beans to count. You cannot drive by just looking at the rearview mirror.

Positive outcome thinking is critical to fulfilling yourself. But if you are hanging out in “vision” and resisting taking a hard and objective look at the “state of the nation” at the same time, you’re likely to be stuck with that reality. Jumping directly into the jaws of the tiger and confronting what’s really going on at this moment while maintaining a focus on a not-yet-manifested desired future is the hallmark of high performance.

Easy? Don’t kid yourself. That would not be current reality.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
—William Arthur Ward

This essay appeared in David Allen’s Productive Living Newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

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1 Comment

  1. Nice post reminded me of this quote from Alice in wonderland:

    “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where—” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

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