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  • Writer's pictureTilo Schwarz

What My Daughter Taught Me About Pursuing Goals

'So You're a Manager' by Tilo Schwarz

WHEN OUR DAUGHTER Lilian started high-school she was excited about the extracurricular activities, one of which is an annual fundraising walk, called Mukolauf. Students hike the hills in our area, sponsored by friends & family who pay per kilometer hiked. The money goes to cystic fibrosis research.

The hike is divided into four stages of about 10 kilometers each, with a checkpoint at the end of each stage. Participants need to complete at least the first stage before they can stop. The whole hike is over 42 kilometers long – more than a marathon – and ends back at the school.

Since it was for a good cause we let Lilian go, but asked her one question: „Are you sure you can and want to do the full 10 km for the first stage?“ She looked at us with a confused expression as if she did not understand. I tried to clarify: „Lilian if you get tired after 5 kilometers, we will not be able to pick you up. You’ll be somewhere on a hiking path in the hills, and we can’t fly in to get you. If you start, you have to do the full 10 kilometers all the way to the first checkpoint.“

She answered: „You don’t need to pick me up in the hills or at any checkpoint. You can pick me up at school at the end. I’ll hike the whole thing!“ My wife and I started to laugh, remembering how our kids moan, „when are we going back?“ only 2 kilometers into a Sunday hike with the family.

Lilian kept repeating the same thing over and over during the next few weeks: „I will hike the whole thing!“

The hike follows the ridge of a range of hills. Participants get a map, are expected to take all they need for the day and walk in groups of at least three to make sure one can stay, and another go to get help if somebody can’t continue. It’s Germany, not the Australian outback or the Canadian Rockies, but we were still a little concerned about how things would go.

On the Saturday of the hike, I dropped Lilian off at school at 7:00 am and told her to call us to pick her up once her group reached the first checkpoint. My wife and I calculated that they would probably need 3 hours for the first stage and expected a call around 10 am.

Ten o’clock came and went but no call. Same thing at 10:30 am. It was wet and raining, and by 11:00 am it was pouring. I called Lilian's mobile: „Where are you right now? Have you reached the first checkpoint?“, „We are already past the first checkpoint and sitting in a hut for shelter right now having our lunch,“ was her answer. I told her to give me a call at checkpoint two, so I could pick her up. That would be 20 km.

This time her call came.

Me: „Lilian, where are you?“

Lilian: „We just passed the 2nd checkpoint.“

Me: „What? Go back. I’ll pick you up.“

Lilian: „No. But could you please pick up two of my friends. They are tired and waiting at checkpoint two. Sorry, I have to hang up; we’re in a hurry.“

So I picked up Lilian's friends and dropped them off at their parents' house. Time went by, and we waited for Lilian's call from checkpoint 3. Time went by and no call.

Finally, at 7:00 pm Lilian called: „We are entering the schoolyard, you can pick us up now.“ Twelve hours since the start. 42 kilometers. My wife and I were relieved, surprised, and proud.

I picked up Lilian and her friend. They were muddy all over and could hardly move their legs, but had glowing eyes and were all smiles. When Lilian was lying in bed that night I asked her: „How did you do this?“.

This is what she said and in doing so taught me something about setting and pursuing goals:

„We always pictured ourselves walking through the gate of the schoolyard at sunset and imagined how it would feel and what kind of face you would make picking us up there. While hiking, we often observed what the countryside around us looked like, searched for landmarks and then looked at the map to find out where we were and how far it was to the next checkpoint. Actually, we didn’t think about the whole hike all the time, but we often told each other let’s just make it to the next checkpoint. The last stage was the hardest. We often had to stop and sit down. We listened to music on our mobiles for a while, lay flat on the ground and watched the birds flying overhead or played with some pebbles. Then we got up and went on. Sometimes just 200 meters before we had to stop again and rest. However, we made it.“

Lilian and her friends weren’t familiar with the Improvement Kata at the time, but they obviously practicing its four steps naturally:

Here is what I learned:

  1. Create a picture of the Challenge or direction. It’s like a picture of the mountain top. How will things look when we get there? How will we feel? If you are leading a team, you may want to make sure everybody has the same picture in mind. It's amazing what you and your team can achieve when there is some sort of consensus about where you are going.

  2. Always get the facts on where you are now. Do this regularly and do it by taking a look at reality first hand. Base your decisions about the next steps on both the chosen direction and a hard, unbiased look at the current conditions.

  3. Break the Challenge down by establishing the next target condition and talk about it to each other often. If things get tough, make the next target condition closer, sometimes even very small. 200 meters might be enough. Once you know where you want to go in the long run don't worry about that so much. Instead, focus your attention on your next milestone, or target condition. Once you get there you can see further.

  4. Overcoming obstacles to your next target condition is more about experimenting than sheer willpower and pressing through. Kids tend to get playful when they are stuck on a task, which can be quite effective for stimulating creativity. Stuck? Get a little playful. After a while play turns into creativity and then creativity turns into ingenuity and all of a sudden you may have an idea for how to go on.

Scientific thinking ... adaptiveness ... how to work together in pursuit of a challenging goal. Even an adult can do it. ;-)

Thank you for the lessons, Lilian!

Like this article? Forward it to your friends and colleagues because they will appreciate it if you provide helpful tips.



A question from John Hamilton who did a great job as our Editor for the Toyota Kata Memory Jogger inspired me to write this article. John will be participating in the Boston Marathon next Monday. Several weeks ago he asked me if I had some Toyota Kata tips for runners. John, thank you for your question, and this is my answer.

If you are already practicing Toyota Kata, you might like my weekly articles with tips and tricks for the coach. They are embedded in a story about Denise a young department manager intending to develop her team through coaching. Get a first impression here.

Toyota Kata, based on the research of Mike Rother, is about developing a way of systematic, scientific thinking and acting — called Improvement Kata — which can help individuals, teams, and organizations to reach challenging goals and achieve superior results. Toyota Kata combines routines for deliberately practicing systematic, scientific thinking and acting with coaching techniques — called Coaching Kata — for teaching others this way of thinking.

Toyota Kata = The Improvement Kata + The Coaching Kata

Find out more on the Toyota Kata website.

You can find helpful recipes for starting and practicing in the TK Memory Jogger.


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