Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind + The Thang’s Mission

June 12, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 5:41 pm   Category: 7 Habits,The Thang

No, I haven’t forgotten that I started a series of posts on Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. We’re on to Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind. I mentioned in the introductory post of this series that I think this is the hardest of the 7 Habits to pull off correctly. I actually think the difficulties associated with this habit are what cause many people to throw in the towel on the whole 7 Habits model. Further, I think that Covey does not (perhaps can not) provide enough assistance and guidance on this habit in the book.

Leaders and Managers

In an early section of this chapter Covey uses an idea that is reminiscent of Hugh Nibley’s classic BYU commencement speech titled Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift. Covey nicely summarizes the concept by saying:

Management is bottom line focus: How can I best accomplish certain things? Leadership deals with the top line: What are the things I want to accomplish? In the words of both of both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. (101)

He follows up with his analogy of a very efficient team of managers and workers hacking their way through a dense jungle using machetes. He says “The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the situation, and yells, ‘Wrong jungle!'” I think Covey is right on with this stuff.

But where is The End?

But determining where the end is becomes the weakness of this habit and chapter. The principle makes perfect sense on all sorts of levels. It is useful to know what one wants accomplish in an hour before that hour starts. That leads to a more effective hour. But of course the acts of the hour ought to help accomplish the goal for the entire day. And the activities of the day out to accomplish the goals one has set for the week. This pattern continues ad infinitum – monthly goals, yearly, decade, and even lifetime goals. In fact the first vignette in this chapter of the book has us envisioning our own funeral and imagining the things we want to be remembered for and as by our families, friends, work associates, etc. But of course in Mormonism mortal death is not the end for us so we must push “the end” back much further than that with the real goal presumably being exaltation and Oneness with Christ and the Godhead.

So in a sense Covey’s Habit 2 insists that we all become metaphysicians, theologians, philosphers and perhaps even personal prophets (within our stewardships). Isn’t understanding the ultimate “end” really the type of question that every philosopher and theologian has struggled with throughout history? And this is just Habit 2 of 7… After we figure out “The End” and how to get there Habit 3 tells us how to be more efficient in the whole process. I only mention this because I have become a hobbyist metaphysician, theologian, and philosopher largely based on this line of reasoning. That is, I figure life is pretty short so I want to understand and map life the universe and everything as well as I can as I try to accomplish exactly what it is I ought to accomplish while here. This issue seems too important to leave to chance to me.

But even if we ignore the inherent downstream difficulties associated with the process of determining and comprehending the ultimate “end” we are after this process of beginning with the end in mind is still difficult. Covey recommends that we create “Mission Statements” as sort of personal constitutions or operating plans for our lives. You remember Mission Statements, right? They were hugely trendy in the 90s. So how many of you actually are closely adhering to that personal, family, or company mission statement you helped create circa 1994? (If it is more that 1% I’ll be surprised…) The problem with whole idea of mission statements is that none of us knows what our lives will look like in 2016. As a result the only things we can conceivably include in a mission statement that would work over time are so generic that it renders the document rather pointless. Do I really need a formal mission statement to decide to love my family, be kind, follow the spirit, etc.?

The Thang with the End in Mind

So that leaves us with a nebulous “end” goal after this life of exaltation. I say nebulous because the details of our post mortal existence are really still about as fuzzy to us as the details of our premortal existence. We don’t even have a clear church-wide definition of what exaltation really means. Some think it means joining the one and only Godhead in perfect unity; others think it means becoming Gods like our heavenly Father and creating future inhabited planets; others think that one must become a savior like Jesus on a future planet; and there are scores of other ideas. And it is these types of things that I like to talk about with y’all here. Why? Not because I want to idly waste my time on intellectual and philosophical blathering. It is because I want to better understand what exaltation means so I can better and more efficiently work toward it. If we can map out and somehow bridge “the end” (exaltation) here and now we really can better get to Habit 3: Put First Things First. And if I have been hacking away in the wrong jungle with regard to any theological assumptions I want to climb the highest tree and survey the landscape and resolve that issue now rather than later.

Personal revealtion is crucial too of course, but when it come to personal revelation it is a well known fact that it is much easier to get yes or no answers from God than deeply detailed instructions. That is why we study things out in our mind first and then we ask him.

I suspect that better understanding exaltation is a goal of most of the participants here too. Those of you who I know have faith in Jesus Christ, have spent your lives repenting and trying to be like him and trying to know him personally. That is encouraging to me. I think that dialogues like those we have here help us all understand that end of exaltation better. And that will help us begin with the end in mind. It seems to me that what we are really doing is here is trying to help each other come unto Christ and be perfected in him.

I mention this because some people have griped recently about what we are doing here at the Thang. I think if the goal of coming to Christ and being perfected in him bugs these Mormons they should take that up with Him. He doesn’t seem displeased with our mission.

[Associated radio.blog song: The English Beat – The End of the Party]


  1. Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with leadership and management in my professional life. I’m not sure many appreciate the engineer as project manager puts one in the middle of a tug-of-war between balancing bottom line management with visionary engineering. Sometimes a difficult balance.

    I also appreciate your blog and mission here. I think if a small and simple person like me finds value here then you are on the right track most of the time :). You may sometimes drive me a little crazy, but your sincerety of purpose comes through. Thank you for the interesting content you provide.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 12, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

  2. I think the ultimate reason why God does not give us deeply detailed instructions is that moral truth is indeterminate in the details. Or in other words, there is more than one right answer. As such, we have intelligence and free will – we can figure it out for ourselves. Indeed it is a net benefit to the Kingdom of God for us to do so – we do not need to pester the Lord about everything.

    Why does the Lord’s investment in us have positive returns? Free will and creativity in accomplishing righteous ends pure and simple. No creativity and the parable of the talents makes no sense. Neither does the last part of the parable of the wheat and the tares.

    The Lord is not so unlike Moses – in that he accomplishes more by delegating his responsibilities. That is what *agency* and stewardship is all about. It is also the only reason why per-capita productivity ever increases.

    For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

    Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
    For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

    But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
    (D&C 58:26-29)

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 12, 2006 @ 11:00 pm

  3. I must admit that my efforts in philosophy and theology are not generally aimed at “more efficiently” working toward exaltation. My experience with people leads me to believe that whatever purpose God has in sending us here to earth, it doesn’t require us to be smart. I could start now trying to explain the conflict between free-will and foreknowledge to my grandfather and I’m quite sure he’d die before grasping it. However, he seems to be working toward exaltation quite well.

    I philosophize because I can’t help myself. There is something inherent in humanity that makes us want to know things, want to know what the world is really like. For people with a certain intellectual constitution, this desire leads them to philosophize. Other people are put together such that it does not. I find that I can’t take my religion seriously without trying to make sense of its theology, but I know lots of people (some of whom I respect greatly) who do not seem to have this problem.

    The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. (C.S. Lewis, Learning in Wartime)

    As to some people griping about intellectual inquiry and dialogue where they prefer dogma: If you try to address their concern with an argument, it means you haven’t internalized their concern. Using arguments just proves you are vain and foolish and think you are smarter than God.

    Comment by Jacob — June 12, 2006 @ 11:26 pm

  4. Methinks this is a different Jacob. The all (or at least many) roads lead to Rome (or Seoul) approach. Indeed in Korea most roads do lead to Seoul.

    However if divinization in anyway entails certain perfections of character, the idea that one can become like God without thinking, is like the idea that one can travel from New York to San Francisco without going East or West – that traveling North or South, if one tries hard enough, will eventually take one to the destination.

    Or is it that God will accept an offering of northerliness, and grant westerliness without any further effort? Doesn’t sound like the law of the harvest to me. In fact D&C 130 clearly teaches that those who arrive at intelligence (of whatever variety) through their obedience and diligence in this life will have so much the advantage in the world to come.

    Now there are many further reasons to conclude that willing ignorance has moral consequences beyond this mortal realm, consequences not captured by those who believe in the doctrine of total inability, but I trust I have made my point clear.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 12:17 am

  5. Or maybe not…

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 12:18 am

  6. Mark,

    I said that “whatever purpose God has in sending us here to earth, it doesn’t require us to be smart.” Of course, you can’t be exalted without getting pretty smart at some point, and of course, I don’t think there are magic wands which will make people smart without effort on their part. And of course, if people have capacities and talents which they squander (or remain willfully ignorant), there are moral implications to that. We could likely go on coming up with obvious qualifying statements.

    That said, I see no reason to believe you must be smart in this life to make it to heaven, which is what I said. Surely you agree with me on that. (no?)

    Comment by Jacob — June 13, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

  7. I agree with you on that, Jacob. However that does not mean that one should not strive to “Be Smart”, and that there are moral consequences to foolishness. In short stupidity leads to evil as a result of poor judgment. That is why we study the scriptures, not just absorb Mormon folklore in Sunday School class.

    Here are a couple of classic accounts:

    Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the LORD, neither consider the operation of his hands.

    Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst. Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it.
    (Isaiah 5:11-14, italics added)

    THE proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels
    (Proverbs 1:1-5)

    MY son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

    For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly.

    He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee:

    To deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; Whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths:
    (Proverbs 2:1-15)

    Need I say more?

    [We briefly discussed this at T&S today by the way]

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 6:13 pm

  8. I must also object to the binary Aristotelian reduction of all good things to “necessary to be saved”, and “utterly inconsequential”.

    Here is a nice quote from Brigham Young:

    A true philosopher wishes to grow, and increase continually; he wishes his mind to expand and reach forth, until he can think as God thinks; as angels think, and behold things as God beholds them.

    You recollect I told you in the commencement, I should talk about things that did not particularly concern you and me; but the people want to hear something to advance their present knowledge; they want to find out if there is anything more for us to learn. When you have lived through eternities to come, learning continually, you may then inquire, “Bro. Brigham, is there anything more for me to learn.” My reply to such an inquiry would be, “Yes there is an eternity of knowledge yet to learn.”

    Search after wisdom, get knowledge, and understanding, and forget it not; and be not like the fool whose eyes are on the ends of the earth, or like the misers who are around us here; they are craving, and [so] anxious after property, that if they save a picayune on the wall opposite to me there, they would run over forty dollars to secure that picayune; their eyes are on earthly riches to the neglect of riches that are more enduring.

    There are a great many persons who are so anxious to learn about eternity, Gods, angels, heavens, and hells, that they neglect to learn the first lessons preparatory to learning the things they are reaching after. They will come short of them.
    (Brigham Young, Unpublished general conference discourse, October 8, 1854)

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 6:16 pm

  9. Mark,

    I agree with you in #7 when you say we should try to “be smart.” I don’t think anything in my #3 calls that into question. However, your #8 caused me to laugh because your point there was sort of what I was getting at in my original comment. Geoff says in the post that he doesn’t blog in order to: “idly waste my time on intellectual and philosophical blathering. It is because I want to better understand what exaltation means so I can better and more efficiently work toward it.”

    I don’t want to read too many words into Geoff’s mouth, but that statement struck me as one that divides things into “necessary for exaltation” and “utterly inconsequential.” My point in #3 was that I often philosophize simply because I wonder about things and I want to know what the world is really like and I don’t like to hold contradictory views. This point seems pretty much in line with the point Brigham Young is making in the quote you added (nice quote by the way). So now I feel vindicated.

    Comment by Jacob — June 13, 2006 @ 6:56 pm

  10. I think Geoff is just drawing a spectrum. It is the soteriological minimalists – the ones who believe anything not mandatory to salvation is irrelevant to salvation, salvation or exaltation as binary propositions, or even a single linear degree, instead of a flowering of goodness of many varieties that get me down.

    There is more than one way to compose a symphony, and I do not think that one is justified in writing only Puritan ones, as if there was virtue in ascetism per se.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 7:36 pm

  11. And even where say material ascetism is justified, intellectual asceticism is not. The monks of medieval Europe are an excellent example, minus their celibacy of course. This tradition was carried on by the Protestant clergy in England. Protestant (and Mormon) anti-intellectualism only really flowered in the past century or so, though Luther started the modern trend nearly five hundred years ago – “Philosophy is the devil’s whore” and all.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 13, 2006 @ 7:41 pm

  12. Good thoughts all. Sorry I have been missing in action a bit lately.

    Eric – Thanks. I appreciate the vote of confidence. Good luck on your leadership vs management issue at work. You probably realize that leadership is noble but not always good for harmony at companies. Management often wants “Indians and not Chiefs” and all…

    Comment by Geoff J — June 14, 2006 @ 9:42 am

  13. Mark and Jacob,

    I think you are basically getting my point. I am obviously drawn to metaphysical/philosophical questions. But I am also a deeply practical man. The point I was making is that these two things need not and indeed should be at odds with one another. We should stretch our minds here and in the process of so doing we can make great progress toward the ultimate purpose we are here to begin with. You know that great quote from Joseph Smith:

    The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity – thou must commune with God.

    I also think I’ll post later the metaphysical implications of the Parable of the Talents though. We have this tension between absolute progress and relative progress that I think is hard to resolve — especially with a naive My Turn on Earth model of eternity (though I know y’all don’t hold naive views on that.) But I do think there is a tendency to cop-out on this issue like when Jacob said in #6 “I see no reason to believe you must be smart in this life to make it to heaven”. That may be true on this planet but God is more intelligent than they all so we have to be “smart” at some point before being exalted. Clearly it is sufficient to “double our talents” here and the celestial law seems to be to give everything we have to God — whether that be a mite like the widow or a treasure like the rich young ruler. Like I said, there is interesting stuff here to be mined. I hope to get to it more in a separate post.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 14, 2006 @ 10:10 am

  14. Geoff: But I do think there is a tendency to cop-out on this issue like when Jacob said in #6 “I see no reason to believe you must be smart in this life to make it to heaven”.

    I hope you don’t mean to say my statement in #6 was a cop-out because it followed a list of clarifying comments, one of which specifically made your follow-up point about us having to become “smart” at some point.

    Comment by Jacob — June 14, 2006 @ 10:35 am

  15. Yeah — I’m with you Jacob. I think it will be an interesting subject to dig into in a future post.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 14, 2006 @ 10:41 am

  16. Yes, you have to give everything (or at least be willing to give everything) to God. However if God kept it, he wouldn’t be God either.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 14, 2006 @ 10:46 am

  17. One thing I don’t like about the Covey is that he seems to glorify leadership over management. Leadership is important, for sure, but I think management is underated. I find in my professional life that the management is where we usually break down. We often have a great idea of where we want to go (good leaders have set a good goal), but making it happen is remarkably difficult. Comics like Dilbert have pointed out how silly management can get, but one of the reasons they get so silly is that the job they are trying to do is very difficult. The same is true in life. I know what kind of person I want to be, but making it happen (personal management) is often the toughest part.

    Comment by Jacob — June 14, 2006 @ 11:37 am

  18. I actually think Covey is very strong on management in the his 7 Habits model. Habit 3 is exclusively about it and Habits 4-6 are all about interpersonal relationships that are at the heart of management as well. His Habit 3: Put First Things First has the best personal and group management teachings I have read (and I’ve read a lot of this stuff).

    Comment by Geoff J — June 14, 2006 @ 11:57 am

  19. I haven’t read 7 habits in a while, so I’m sure you’re right about Covey.

    Comment by Jacob — June 14, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

  20. Well, I think leadership and management are inseparable, for the reason that goals cannot be achieved independently as a general rule. Management is all about the skill of acheivement without undue sacrifice to any fundamental principle of business or morality. A lot like the balancing act that characterizes good engineering, except harder to do well.

    The number one problem with management in this country is that it has become increasingly divorced from morality – treated more like an optimization problem where the law is the only relevant constraint, that within those bounds all is fair game. In other words it is all about the letter of the law, and runs directly contrary to the spirit of the law.

    The businesses that get rewarded are professional swindlers, operating barely in the bounds of law, and infuriating one time customers who have little choice but to stick with them or switch to another organization specializing in their exploitation for profity. That is the dark side of corporatism – no longer are we dealing with individuals who have principles and reputations to maintain, but impersonal combinations who have nothing but a fiduciary obligation to get gain at any cost to ethics and morality. The competition of criminality instead of the competition of creativity. We need a cult of fairness, not a cult of use and abuse.

    Case in point – why do you think the telecom giants want to end network neutrality except to charge monopoly rents on services we now get for commodity prices? That is flat out immoral – the motives of the telecoms are evil writ large. Who cares about the public welfare – just charge exorbitant rates for services with no added value. The ideology of patent exploitation – creating “property” out of thin air is similar.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 14, 2006 @ 7:24 pm

  21. One of the challenges with having a mind which naturally tends toward philosophy is that philosophizing looks an awful lot like being lazy. I’ve had to convince my wife that I’m not being lazy, I’m pondering. As far as being smart as a requirement in this life – I have long been intrigued with how many faithful saints, who I suspect are headed toward Godhood, are able to accept key doctrines WITHOUT the need to understand them better or to philosophize about them. I have had to conclude that making moral choices is the key and not the ability to ‘figure everything out’, although I believe Heavenly Father relates to those of us who are trying to figure it out.

    Comment by hdh — June 20, 2006 @ 7:12 am

  22. hdh,

    Welcome to the Thang and good point. Pondering does look like laziness to many people in our hyper-busy world.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 21, 2006 @ 8:33 am