Sunday, March 07, 2010

Target Fixation

In WWII fighter pilots were faced with a phenomenon where they would want to fly into targets during strafing runs; not on purpose, but because they were so focused on where their gun fire was hitting that they could not focus on any other hazard. This was eventually coined as “target fixation”, or the process by which the brain is focused so intently on an observed object that other objects or hazards diminish.

When we look at the structure of our goals and desires in every aspect in life, it is common that we experience target fixation and become so consumed with the end goal that we lose our ability to see not only danger, but future opportunity as well. In doing so, we diminish the value of our work and lessen the experience of accomplishment.

The negative effects of target fixation are obvious; we set our sights on a goal and become oblivious to the dangers that surround our pursuit. Eventually these dangers sneak up on us and we never reach our intended target for no other reason than negligence. In these circumstances we know what hit us after the fact and can make the necessary adjustments the next time we choose to attempt our goal. This is the process of learning through failure, and the start of the long trial and error experiment in goal attainment.

Ultimately our goal should not be to learn from failure, but to learn in success. You can be target fixated and succeed, but your success is limited to one single event focused on one single item. In success there is much to learn outside of the intended target because with success comes new opportunity. When we are engaged in target fixation we lose the ability to see what opportunities are presented through our progress and hit the finish line with nothing to take away from the process except for accomplishment. This is not a negative position to be in, but it is not an ideal situation to be in either. Essentially success should be the creation of future advancement because of what we observed through our process towards our outcome. This is what will lead to innovation and enhancement of our original ideas and allow our awareness to create rather than limit.

The end goal of achievement is to allow us to experience achievement again through refining and enhancing our ability to succeed. When we are able to see a 360 degree view of our surroundings we allow ourselves to build upon the foundation of hard work that we have established and create smart work in the future. By creating awareness of our surroundings within a process we have the ability to not neglect, but absorb both positive and negative feedback with which we can in turn enhance our learning capabilities.

We always want to have the end goal in our sights when it comes to achievement, but not at the expense of missing key learning moments because of our failure to expand our vision beyond target fixation. The more we are able to see today, the more knowledge we will be able to apply tomorrow.

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