The Clarity Paradox
Author Greg McKeown outlines a really interesting trend that he calls the Clarity Paradox. The punchline is, when you start achieving success it becomes your greatest source of failure. He describes this paradox in 4 phases.
Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.
To walk through this a touch slower… Phase 1 is when you become very clear on what you want it leads to success. This is because you can hyperfocus your efforts and attention on a narrow target, and you have clear criteria about what’s in alignment and what’s not. This helps you concentrate and creates leverage for you to do more effective work.
Phase 2 is about the consequence of being successful. People will start asking to work with you and wanting a piece of your momentum. This leads to a whole new frontier of opportunities that you’ll have to make decisions on, which is exciting but ultimately, distracting.
That’s what leads to phase 3. When we have more opportunities to choose from, and we’re so excited about our recent successes, we take on some of those new projects. This then diffuses your efforts because you have more going on, which leads to phase 4…
Diffused efforts undermine the clarity that led to your success in the first place. The new opportunities, and your pursuing those opportunities, inhibits you from performing as well as you could in the core activities, which is required to attain the true success you are seeking.
The interesting part about all of this is that it’s predictable. It’s human nature to want to jump onto new things and expand your scope when the opportunity arises. It’s fun and validating to be presented new opportunities and new things. But as this paradox clearly articulates, this leads to your demise, and your success becomes your primary source of future failure.
So what are you to do about this? You need to maintain focus. Limit your scope and pursuit to the core value drivers that you determine are most important to your purpose. You need to live in phase 1. This is easier said than done, so it helps to have a clearly defined vision and a decision making criteria that helps you think logically about new opportunities rather than emotionally.
This holds true at work, in relationships, in hobbies and interests, in skills you’re developing. Once you start having success that’s a sign to double down on what’s working rather than pursue what might. It’s not sexy, but it certainly is effective.
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