Ambition influences choices

This week I am thinking about ambition.

Maybe it is because someone described the idea of having three kids under five as ambitious. Or perhaps because I have been reflecting on the ambition of changing the culture and behaviours of both staff and contractors in a civil service organisation.

I notice how context sensitive ambition is:

I walk the final leg to work with Spring sunshine sending waves of warmth into my face and shoulders. I am surrounded by May flowers and the optimism that pretty weather brings. My ambition then is just to stay in that moment for a while longer.

But ambition is transient:

Some few minutes later my ambition has shifted to being the best consultant I can be for my current client. Later, back in the family home my ambition moves on to being the best dad / birth partner I can be.

Are these ambitions? Do you recognise that word in the transient context?

Let’s so a quick Wiktionary check:

Earlier in my career I thought definition 1 was what ambition was all about:

“Eager or inordinate desire for some object that confers distinction, as preferment, honor, superiority, political power, or literary fame; desire to distinguish one’s self from other people”

It’s too late to go back and find out why but I suspect that many of the stories I heard as a child reinforced a cultural stereotype of success that is aligned with this definition.

What I notice more these days is the presence of ambition of the definition 4 type:

“A personal quality similar to motivation, not necessarily tied to a single goal”

Definition 1 ambition feels quite monolithic while definition 4 ambition feels more about the moment.

(Curiously the people I have met who have been bestowed with honours such as MBE / OBE never set out to achieve the honour but they all were quite driven, in each moment, to make a positive difference.)

Why is this relevant?

I see ambition as being one of the key influences in decision-making. Therefore, when we do business decision design® we need to take account of the positive and negative potentials that individuals’ ambition brings to the choice.

I have seen ambition increase the risk appetite of decision-makers. I have also seen the opposite; risk-averse behaviours driven by a fear of damaging the quest to achieve distinction. These behavioural influences are probably well documented.

But what happens when ambition is less specific?

What then becomes important is the connection we each make with the impact of the decision and the goals it is associated with. It makes the mapping more complicated and more interesting.

Here’s to an ambitious week

And that cover pic


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