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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

Goals That Work

I recently received an email from a reader of this blog. He describes what he calls a “loophole” in the goal-setting process: either you achieve a goal and then invalidate it with counter-productive behaviors, or you see that a goal won’t be achieved so you give up totally. He then describes what works (something I suggest on this blog): setting a theme. Here are his thoughts.

I am still setting goals on 43things.com. Very difficult except for shopping list type goals like “buy a new hat”.

I’ve been sleeping 12 hours per day. I had set a goal to get up at 6am and have an afternoon nap. I’ve been doing exactly that, except I go back to bed at 7am until 11am! The other day I set a new goal: “have a morning productivity score of 80/100.” This all-or-nothing goal didn’t work because as soon as I knew I couldn’t reach 80 I let the whole thing go and scored 25.

Goals that have worked are like ongoing themes which are achieved when the first example of the theme is achieved.

One goal was “perform a miracle of friendship.” What I had in mind was that it would take a miracle for someone who wouldn’t make time for me to change their mind. However it was achieved in an immediate, unexpected way. Within a day I remembered a friend who keeps sending me his poetry and that I received some the day before. Previously I found it boring (and the opposite of “bored” in the Thesaurus is “caring”) then I realized I could write and send him a special poem just for him. It rhymed too.

I achieved the goal of performing a miracle of friendship and it will also be an ongoing theme.

This same concept holds true for organizations. Employees are not stupid. They will do what they need to in order to hit their performance targets – even if the end result is detrimental to the overall performance of the business. People are motivated by a clear sense of direction, purpose, vision, or theme. When individuals are incented to “do the right thing” rather than hitting targets, you will find increased creativity, improved performance, and a happier workforce.