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Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Today’s Friday Fun Fact

My Monday Morning Movie discussed some concepts from my book, Goal-Free Living.

I have long questioned the practice of goal setting.  My book (published in 2006) challenged traditional thinking about goal setting and discusses how we can not only succeed in business (and life) but to do so while achieving great happiness and satisfaction.

Due to its prevalence in business, this goal-free concept is often met with resistance.  But apparently there are others that have challenged this conventional wisdom as well.

In a Harvard Business School working paper, the authors of Goals Gone Wild reviewed a number of studies that indicate that the ”beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored.”  They state that the side-effects that goal-setting can have include a “narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. “

One such study is highlighted in a recent New York Times article:

Three groups of participants were asked to create as many words as possible using random letters – similar to the game, Boggle.  Two groups were given a specific goal to formulate at least 9 words.  One of the two teams was offered a financial incentive for hitting this goal, the other was not.  The third group of participants was simply told to do their best.

At the completion, the participants turned in only the answer sheets stating how many words they had created and had disposed of their worksheets.  “But the academic researchers running the experiment had a code to match the worksheets with the answer sheets and discovered that both groups that had been given a goal of creating a certain number of words — whether or not money was involved — cheated 8 to 13 percent of the time. Those in the third group rarely did.”

To set goals or not to set goals.  The debate continues.

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