On the Power of Clarity, Specificity and Persistence
I just read read a fantastic Esquire article about Robert Caro, author of the magisterial, multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro, despite being a self-admitted “fast writer” doesn’t begin his writing until he is perfectly clear on his purpose:
“Caro knits together his fingers until he knows what his book is about. Once he is certain, he will write one or two paragraphs — he aims for one, but he usually writes two, a consistent Caro math — that capture his ambitions. Those two paragraphs will be his guide for as long as he’s working on the book. Whenever he feels lost, whenever he finds himself buried in his research or dropping the thread — over the course of ten years, a man can become a different man entirely — he can read those two paragraphs back to himself and find anchor again.”
This is a testament to the power of distilling your goals and ambitions into a crystalline, written statement of purpose – then sticking with it. Each one of these steps is critical; (1) getting clear on exactly what your purpose is in any endeavor, (2) committing that purpose succinctly to writing and (3) coming back to it often for direction. Caro’s books are enormous and their creation spans a decade on average but their production is guided by one or two paragraphs.
I have been meditating for some time on the power of seeking clarity before taking action. So often we are permitted to go forward with flabby, ill defined statements of purpose. We set strategic aims and then lose the patience to be guided by them. We end meetings with general agreements but no specific actions. Often we allow ourselves to pass off hackneyed phrases for “insights” that will drive our business.
Because achieving clarity of purpose is painstaking work. I think we lack the discipline to demand it before setting things in motion (I am often as guilty as the rest). Just as often we lack the permission. We are driven by timetables that thoroughly erase the time for contemplation as individuals and collaboration in groups. We are measured by daily deliverables summed up in bullet point. Caro is a welcome reminder of what we stand to gain by seeking clarity, being specific and sticking with it..