“Cheshire Cat,” Alice began, rather carefully. “Would you tell me, please, which way to go from here?”
“That depends on where you want to go,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.
“Well then it doesn’t really matter which way you walk,” said the Cat.
“…so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
I have lost track of the number of times I’ve used that passage from Alice in Wonderland to make a point. At times, I wish I could consult with Mr. Carroll himself to find out if there are more hidden nuggets he could reveal. Instead of having a chat with the long departed author though, I once met his main character.
While attending and speaking at a business-building conference, I met dozens of people looking for ways to grow their business. Most of them had a specific idea of what they needed and asked questions directed at finding out. There were a few in a considerably different place. This set was represented by Alice.
During a social break, all of the attendees and speakers were networking in the lobby of the hotel. Alice approached me and said she really enjoyed my presentation. I thanked her and asked if there was anything from it she could apply to her life or business.
“I don’t know,” she said lazily, “I’m sure there is.”
“What about the other speakers?” I pressed, “Anything from their sessions you’ll be able to take home?”
“Probably,” she continued, “but I just don’t think I’ve gotten what I needed yet.”
Anticipating where this was going, I became the Cheshire Cat. “What is it you need then?”
“I’m not sure,” replied Alice.
“Then how do you know that you haven’t already gotten it?” I smiled softly.
If you don’t know what you want, how do you go about getting it?
If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?
Since Alice didn’t know what she wanted, how many presentations would it take for her to get it?
Alice’s situation isn’t uncommon but it is unproductive. We’ve all fallen prey to buying book after book, conference after conference, gimmick after gimmick, looking for the missing piece. The trouble isn’t with the book, conference, or gimmick. The trouble is that we haven’t established the need we want the (conference, book, gimmick, etc.) to provide.
When we accumulate information without any clear objective for its use, we call that, Just In Case learning. We aren’t sure what we need and don’t have a clear vision for where we are headed, so we grab everything within reach just in case we need it.
This habit frustrates countless people. It is responsible for huge purchases and subsequent refunds. The buyer blames the program for not delivering, but the simple fact is they didn’t have any idea why they were buying it. How could the program possibly deliver when an expectation isn’t established?
Instead of blindly hoarding information in hopes of something magical, we are better served to apply a philosophy I learned in manufacturing and applied as a 30-something college student. Just In Time learning.
With a Just In Time Learning philosophy, I establish what I need and seek the solution. With a clear objective in mind, I find the expert, information, service, product, conference, or whatever I need to solve my issue. During my bachelors and masters programs, I laid out what I needed to learn from a chapter before ever reading it. I would outline my papers before beginning the research. Every action had a purpose.
How does this help? It’s a matter of having context. If you have a reason for doing something, the actions are more meaningful. If you are doing something without a clear reason, a context, the actions and events won’t stick. The learning is more difficult and the effort is wasted.
I’ve wasted countless hours and dollars doing the same as Alice. My preparation habits have changed and now I optimize my experiences. Now I believe you make your own luck and a lot of it has to do with preparation, focus, and where your heart is.
Don’t send your time and money down the rabbit hole with Alice. Take the time to know what you need and make its attainment your focus. Survey your landscape for the best way to get what you need and when it involves others, make it a point to give first.
You can only take for so long before it catches up with you. When you approach life with a prepared focus and servant’s heart, your needs will rush to you with uncommon speed.
Be your best,