Why beginning with the end in mind doesn’t always work for projects

To get from Point A to Point B, especially in an unfamiliar place, we often need to rely on a GPS to guide us. And for a GPS to work, we need to have a destination in mind. We can’t just go north and expect to end up in a place that we want to be in.

Applying this concept to life, Stephen Covey suggests that we should begin with the end in mind. That means instead of working hard for the sake of working hard, we need to develop a vision of the person we want to be at the end of our lives.

It is about creating a blueprint for your life, much like how an architect uses blueprints to collaborate with engineers and builders to bring a building to life. And this will prevent us from trying to climb up the wrong ladder in the first place.

Although beginning with the end in mind could help you formulate a vision for your life to prevent you from pursuing the wrong things in life, it’s not always helpful.

Especially when trying to apply this concept to your projects.

Beginning with the end in mind doesn’t always work for projects

#1 You can’t know the end exactly

It’s hard for you to know exactly what the end will be when engaging in creative work.

When it’s somewhat complicated, it’s almost impossible to hold so many details in your head. Without first going through a process of exploration, how would you know what to draw, build, write or create?

An initial sketch of Marina Bay Sands Singapore is not exactly the same as the actual building.
Credit (left-to-right): Safdie Architects, Roundicons, Hu Chen

If I can know the end from the beginning, I would be able to write every single successive sentence on this page from start to finish in a linear fashion. But that’s something that will never happen.

Creative work is inherently nonlinear. And trying to know the end from the beginning makes you believe otherwise, that the work is going to be a linear process.

#2 There is no real end

How many times have you submitted your school assignments and thought to yourself the next day, “I should have added this in”?

You can work on a single project every single day and yet still find things to improve. Think about the apps that you use every single day on your phone. How many times do you have to update them in a month? Or even in a week?

A project is defined by having a beginning and an end. But the piece of work may not have a real end in the sense that there is always a Version 2.0 that you can work on.

#3 You need to remain flexible

As you dive into a project, your knowledge may change over time. The circumstances may change over time. If you are overly-fixated on the endpoint and refuse to open your mind to the possibility of change, you can actually kill your project in the end.

What if you are a speaker who relies on speaking in auditoriums full of people in this season of isolation? What if you were planning on opening a retail store just when non-essential businesses have to temporarily close?

If you don’t pivot and find other ways of doing your work, will you be able to make payroll without the income?


If you are struggling to define the end of your project exactly, maybe you don’t have to. Maybe you could figure out as you go along. That’s not to say that you don’t consider where you are heading at all. But you can always refine your clarity of the end as you move along in the project. You don’t have to have the clarity right from the start.


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