Driving at Night

I remember a conversation I had last year with one of Acumen’s East Africa Fellows.  We were talking about the faith it takes to walk an unknown path.  He shared that his father used to tell him, “You can only see a little ways in front of you when you’re driving in a car on a road in the dark of night, but that allows you to see far enough to eventually find your way to town.”

Much of what the world needs us to do is to walk untrodden paths. This requires more than just courage in the darkness.  While we only need to see a bit in front of us to travel far, it’s also true that we could have the brightest lights in the world and, if we have no idea where “town” is, we’ll never get there.

How do we balance knowing and not knowing? How do we avoid getting paralyzed – by trying to plan out every unknowable step along the way – while making sure we have a sense of our destination?

Part of the answer is imagining success.

Meaning, while we can only plan our next set of actions (as far as our lights can see), we can force ourselves to imagine what we will do when that step works out. And the next step. And the one after that.

Imagining this path of success helps me avoid becoming overwhelmed by a really nasty, thorny task that’s standing right in front of me.  It’s easy to say “let’s just get this part right, and we’ll figure out the rest if this bit works,” but that’s a big mistake.

Instead, walk all the way down that path of things going the way you hope they will, so that you can have the important and difficult conversation that starts with, “Then what?”  As in:

  • “We will succeed in getting key players in the organization to make the tough choices that they’ve been resisting.” “Then what?”
  • “Response rates on our new mobile phone survey will be high, and we’ll get new data that will be relevant to our driving repeat sales.” “Then what?”
  • “The big article that we’ve just submitted will get approved by the editor.” “Then what?”

Force yourself to figure out what happens when things go right, so that when they do you’ve got the next three steps lined up and you can step on the gas.  Otherwise, tomorrow’s victory will be a brief one.

3 thoughts on “Driving at Night

  1. A lot can be unpacked from this one, Sasha. As I read this, I was reminded of the important role purpose plays in helping us navigate the “then whats.”

    Many people (and organizations) I encounter lack a specific, active purpose. I’ve found most story problems are the result of purpose problems. Without a clear purpose — one others can make their own and participate in — you can’t build a connective narrative that spreads.

    The other thing that came to mind, as I read this, was the difference between “knowing about” and “knowing.” Anyone can know about anything these days. But few truly know. Which starts with driving at night on Purpose Road.

    Thank you for this one. It got my mind going.

  2. Appreciate the delineation between “knowing about” and “knowing” especially in our information age, where wisdom (gained by experience on the road of life) can be overshadowed by “facts”. Thanks for the insight, and thanks to Sasaha for the original post.

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