The watching crowd marvelled and clapped as the karate black belt instructor sliced through bricks with his bare right hand. At the end of the performance several people came up to ask the master how he achieved the feat. The instructor said: 'If you want to put your hand through a brick, you cannot do it by aiming at the surface of the brick. You have to aim at a point well beyond the brick. That way you ensure that you strike through a surface that your body would naturally flinch from. Reach beyond your target and you will make that target.'
'It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at the goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it.'
Arnold Toynbee British economist, reformer (1852-1883)
Using the story
Though much maligned, targets provide the impetus for improvement and an object of focus for action. Problems occur when targets are either too easy to achieve, thus representing no challenge, or are impossibly difficult, leading to frustration and a feeling of failure. The story of the karate instructor provides an interesting angle on the notion of a target that is more like a vision, an imagined picture of the ideal that inspires an effort to reach just beyond what is actually needed to ensure the effort is fully made.
Use this story and quotation to reinforce the importance of creating challenging targets, beyond what you may need to achieve in practice but not plainly out of reach.
Soon after taking over the role of Chief Executive at IBM in 1993 Lou Gerstner made a company address and said: 'The last thing IBM needs is a vision.'
Two years later, as the computer manufacturer was trying to survive turbulent times, Lou Gerstner declared: 'What IBM needs right now is a vision.'
Using the story
An organization without a clear vision in times of turbulence and change is like a boat without a rudder. Lou Gerstner's first statement may have been a pot-shot at the 1990s fashion for management consultancy and the often hollow management-speak that emerged from it, but he eventually realized that, stripped of verbiage, a well-articulated vision can indeed be a driver of progress.
Use this story to show how good leaders come to recognize the importance of vision, even if it sometimes takes them a little while to get there.