7: Forget about Goals

Structural Engineering is a process without a goal.  Design constraints are not goals, they are ways to make decisions and move the project forward in the present.  Engineering is an evolution from a concept to a built project.   Let the final product be unknown during the design process. Understanding that design is inherently goalless is good for you.  Design is means driven, not ends driven (not the outcome).  It is the present, not the future.

Ask "What am I doing right now?"  Ask yourself that question often. How are you improving the project now?   Today, not tomorrow.   How are you increasing your well being, your team around you, and your project?   If you have an end product first, that is less effective than if you live and work honestly in the present.   When you take meaningful steps in the present, the next day the project will evolve to a higher level.  This repeats itself day after day.  The end product (building / structure) simply becomes.   Let it become.  Nurture the process.   Be patient.

We don't know the end product, the final construction is unknown.  So it is pretty reasonable to suggest that the goal of achieving this or that building is useless.   How could something unknown obligate us?   But the tricky types of goals, are the known goals.   I would submit that even known goals are useless whether it is to be successful or to win a super bowl.   These are not only obvious, they are superfluous.   Goals themselves are always good things for the person, so I am not debating whether this or that goal is a worthy pursuit.   Worthing pursuits like yearning for the vast and endless sea, as a goal is fine - but the more immediate task is building the boat.  Focus on the boat not the sea.   The sea is a useless goal, it is obvious.  Freedom to float on the water is inherently good.   Freedom in the sea or the goal of greatness is obvious.   The goal of the sea is superfluous - how can something superfluous, obligate us?   Just like the goal of being great.  That is just as useless.  Be great instead.  Let the design process produce the next evolution of the concept.  Try to design the boat by asking what materials are available first, and keep proceeding.   The built project, the boat itself in its final state should not be known.   Let the boat become, and then hop on board.   The sea will be reached.   Greatness will be achieved.

This is the problem with goal-laden appeals to our industry like ASCE's Vision 2025.   There is nothing wrong with the goal that we should be better planners, designers, stewards of the natural environment, innovators, and leaders.  Yes we should be all this, but we don't need a goal, we don't even need some dense roadmap toward that goal.    The real problem is that with Vision 2025, ASCE is submitting to the fallacy that "goals" themselves are useful in some way.  Goals are completely useless.   As a father of three, I never, ever, push my kids to get straight A's.  I could care less about their grades.  I encourage clarity of thought.  I encourage love of learning by reading, playing, climbing, etc.  I encourage being a good person, a good citizen.  I encourage them to be selfless.   Giving makes you feel good.  I teach them the golden rule (or better yet Kant's Categorical Imperative,  John Rawl's Theory of Justice).   I encourage them to be active learners through play or challenging questioning.   With this encouragement, they will get As, and hopefully they too won't even care.   That is good.  This is why goals for money and success are problematic.   Another problem with goals is the confusion one has after achieving them, I guess my new goal is going to have to win another super bowl?  I guess my new goal is that second million dollars?   So my point here is that known goals are useless too.   So if that is the case, that the unknown ones (a finished building) are definitely useless.   Again, you don't need goals.   Purge them if you have them, it is liberating!

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