Ready, Aim, Fire

Hit the mark for personal excellence

By Diane G. Kulisek

Perhaps you’ve heard quality is a journey, not a destination. So many have uttered various versions of this quote that it’s difficult to know who the actual originator was.

In honor of the new year, I want to share something about the importance of getting where you want to go by first understanding why you want to go there, and then figuring out how you’re going to get there and how to know when you’ve arrived.

Just over 10 years ago, QP published an article titled “Goals + Alignment + Love = Success.”1 Love? Today, we might call it passion. The premise of the article is not too different from that of this one. Three elements lead to the attainment of a desired outcome or objective. We might disagree about what those three elements are called or in what order they need to be considered, but there can be agreement on there being at least three important considerations.

Within an organization, the three elements and the outcome are typically something like policy + strategy + tactical plan = goal attainment. This is a pretty good approach, but it seems to lack a bit of heart. Where’s the passion? Where’s the fire? How many of your co-workers feel fired up about helping your organization succeed?

This is why I’ve converted my approach to one that includes “fire,” and the energy that word implies. Specifically, “ready, aim, fire.” Think of this approach as you would an arrow hitting a target. Your plan is to be an archer and use a bow and arrow to achieve an objective. Your tactics are your form as an archer. Your mark of excellence is the bull’s-eye at the center of the target.

Daisetz Suzuki said, “In the case of archery, the hitter and the hit are no longer two opposing objects but are one reality.”2 I simply say, “Become the arrow.”

Get ready

Before endeavoring to shoot an arrow, it is essential to have a reason to do so. I do it because I find it fun and have many friends who also enjoy it. Fun and friendship are among my personal values.

I’ve made a little bit of a game with my personal values by trying to figure out how many begin with each letter of the alphabet. At least five personal values begin with “f”: freedom, fairness, faith, friendship and fun. My values certainly aren’t limited to these, but this example might help you identify your own personal values.

Values can also be viewed as the reasons we establish and uphold our personal policies. Although “fire” is at the end of my three considerations for goal attainment, as is often the case with systems, the end and the beginning are the same. Begin with the fire of passion and use that passion to sustain you as you strive to attain your goal.

In other words, begin with what matters most for you. This is the foundation on which you build your life in a way that supports you so that you, in turn, best support the world around you. A book titled Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow relates well to this concept.3

Aim: see the big picture

How do you get from where you are to where you want to be? You need a plan. The first part of a plan is often called a strategy. It’s the big picture. Think of a strategy or a plan as a map with a compass, car and road. Even today’s global positioning systems start with satellite views of the planet.

What is your big picture? How do you integrate your values into your life? Each big goal needs to fit into that picture. Returning to the example of the archer’s bow as one analogy for a plan, it is the tool that guides the arrow to the target. It encompasses an inherent method of positioning the arrow and the latent potential to provide significant power toward hitting the target.

However, because the bow does not specifically inject mechanical power into the process, it’s not enough to get the arrow to the mark by itself. From an organizational perspective, you might view a bow as the analogy for a strategic plan. The point is that, whether you view your plan as a map with a compass or as a bow, each aligns those who will provide energy to a process with both values and objectives.

You might say a well-developed strategic plan simply serves to connect values (or policies) to desired outcomes (or objectives). The difficulty of connecting values to desires is why so many organizations seem to struggle with their planning processes.

It’s hard to lead a large enterprise to a desired objective if the fundamental values of the organization haven’t been clearly identified and communicated and, therefore, aren’t the foundation on which the strategic plan is built. I find strategic planning much easier to accomplish at a personal level.

Aim: apply power

So, you know why you want something, and you can see how to get there from here, but how do you actually do it? “One foot after the other” is sometimes the most fundamental solution.

When I first started to write, my mentors told me, “Just do it!” Either way, overcoming inertia is essential. Overcoming inertia and sustaining motion requires steam—or energy.

If you take the example of the map and compass for your strategic plan, this would be when you need to fill your gas tank and turn the key in your ignition. If you like the example of the archer’s bow, this is where you would ready your arrow by removing it from the quiver and placing the shaft on the arrow rest and the nock on the bowstring.

To continue with each example, you’d supply gas to the engine by pressing your foot on the accelerator. To send the arrow on its way, the archer would pull back on the bow string and the arrow. In each case, the direction taken would be toward the desired destination—the end point of your map for a car or the center of the target for the arrow.

All these actions are tactics. A tactic is a procedure or set of maneuvers to achieve an end, aim or goal. Think of tactics as being hands-on or related to the word tactile, which means “perceptible to the sense of touch; tangible.”4 To complete the process of aiming, you must have a tactical plan—one that puts actions in motion, overcoming inertia.


This is where that tactical energy is released into your personal process according to your plan. If done effectively, this takes you to the finish line, hits the mark, raises the bar and brings you satisfaction and success.

If you identified your values while getting ready, took careful aim with your strategic and tactical planning—making sure your values clearly flowed through one to the other—the result of your fire should be pretty close to your mark.

How do you know whether you hit your mark? With a map, you can tell by looking at the signs, checking your compass or asking a passerby. When an arrow hits a target, the result is clear. Are you in or near the bull’s-eye?

You also need indicators to help you understand whether you’ve hit your mark for excellence. Make sure you’ve identified effective, measurable or readily verifiable attributes (yes/no or did/didn’t) to determine your outcomes for each goal.

Determining what those measures or indicators should be is the subject of numerous books, articles and training programs. ASQ’s website is a great resource. Check out the “Metrics Overview” under the topic “Using Data.”5

As you embark on your journey toward success, I’ll leave you with a quote from Michelangelo: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”6


  1. James A. Tompkins, “Goals + Alignment + Love = Success,” Quality Progress, October 1997, pp. 52-55, ww.asq.org/qic/display-item/index.pl?item=13160.
  2. Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, Random House, 1981.
  3. Marsha Sinetar, Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow, Dell, 1987.
  4. Answers.com, www.answers.com/topic/tactics?cat= technology.
  5. Excerpted from Philip Stein’s “Effective Measurement of Business Performance” at the May 1998 ASQ Annual Quality Congress, www.asq.org/learn-about-quality/metrics/ overview/overview.html.
  6. BrainyQuote.com, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/ m/michelangelo.html.

Diane G. Kulisek

DIANE G. KULISEK of Simi Valley, CA, is president of CAPAtrak LLC and an independent quality management consultant, writer and motivational speaker. She holds a master’s degree in engineering management from California State University, Northridge. Kulisek is a senior member of ASQ and active with the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division, and ASQ San Fernando Valley Section 706. She holds ASQ certifications as a manager of quality/organizational excellence and quality engineer.

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