Whitt & Wisdom: Do You Have a Goathead Problem?

By Jim Whitt Contributing Editor 

Most of us learned early in life about goatheads (also known as puncturevine or technically as Tribulus terrestris). I liked this description of goatheads I found online: “This noxious weed, an invasive species from southern Eurasia and Africa, is a menace to people, pets, livestock and bike tires.”  

When you think about the first time you stepped on a goathead with your bare foot you can still feel the pain. 

If you’ve ever tried to eradicate goatheads you know they do not go quietly into the good night. They have deep taproots enabling them to survive extremely arid conditions. Even if you kill the plant, the seeds can lie dormant in the soil for up to five years and germinate when conditions are favorable, creating a whole new crop of goatheads. 

A farmer friend of mine told me of his ongoing war with goatheads. He came up with the idea of removing the goatheads with his shop vac. Since the shop vac was limited in range by the length of the electrical cord, he took the battle to the field armed with a generator as his power source. 

A neighbor driving by on the county road happened to observe my friend running a vacuum cleaner over the ground in his pasture. This piqued his curiosity, so he called my friend, who shared their conversation with me. 

Neighbor: “I saw you out in the pasture with your shop vac. What are you doing?” 

Farmer: “I’m vacuuming goatheads.” 

Neighbor: “You’ve a got a goathead problem.” 

Farmer: “I know! That’s why I’m out here vacuuming them up!” 

Neighbor: “No, that’s not what I mean. You’ve got a goathead problem. You need therapy!” 

Now, as you picture this scene in your mind’s eye and the conversation between my friend and his neighbor, you can’t help but laugh. But stop and think for a minute — do you have a goathead problem? It may not be an obsession with goatheads, but we all have patterns of behavior that we’d like to change or need to change. We all need therapy! I’m thinking about starting a Goatheads Anonymous group. 

Now, my farmer friend is on the board of a client of ours whom we have worked with for many years. Periodically, we have a retreat with the board and staff to assess where we’ve been, where we are, where we need to be and what we need to do to get there. 

If you have participated in planning retreats like this, you may have experienced a recurring pattern. After the retreat, everyone stampedes out the door so they can get back to the important business of eradicating goatheads (or whatever your problem is). It’s a sad fact of human nature that in spite of our best intentions to do the things we need to do to change, we naturally return to our past pattern of behavior. Change is one of our five basic fears. Change is hard. Change is especially hard for an organization because it requires everyone in the organization to participate. 

The key to change is very simple — it’s called a process. Events do not change behavior; processes change behavior. A planning retreat is worthless without a process to implement what is planned for. A planning retreat is merely a step in the process. Then the heavy lifting starts. It requires commitment. It includes who, what, when, where, why and how. Who is responsible? What will they do? When will it be accomplished? Where will it be accomplished? How will we measure our progress? 

You can do all this but still fail. An effective process also requires something we really hate – accountability. That’s one of the most critical roles we provide as consultants. We hold clients accountable to the process. Why don’t they just hold themselves accountable? “It takes a coach to get you to a place inside yourself that you can’t get to by yourself,” says motivational speaker Les Brown. 

If you have a goathead problem – or any other kind of problem – then here’s the solution: You need a process and someone who will hold you accountable to that process.