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Discussion Forum > An article: "Forget about setting goals..."

November 16, 2017 at 4:32 | Registered Commenternuntym
Very interesting. I agree with that. Setting goal sometime make things complicated although when they are multiple goal. Focusing on your system makes things happening. It is like to much thinking acting is for me much better. It gets results
November 16, 2017 at 13:55 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
In summary, goals are what you want to achieve. Systems are how you achieve things. Goals don't achieve things. Implementing a system does. A good system involves regular activity and a feedback mechanism to determine if your activity is effective (to gauge attempts at improvement to the system).
November 16, 2017 at 18:32 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Funny thing about system feedback mechanisms is the feedback is usually about some proxy for actual desired outcome (e.g., "number of widgets produced today") but not the actual desired outcome (e.g., "run a profitable business"). And so we work toward the measurement and don't realize it when it happens to conflict with the actual purpose!

Sometimes I think writing goals falls into the same problem -- especially writing "SMART" goals. As soon as we sterilize the goal by making it Specific, Achievable, and Realistic, and introduce pressure to Measure and Time-Bind the goal, we suddenly have a different goal than our original concept or idea and a whole new way to put pressure on ourselves to deliver it. It's probably smaller in scope, less ambitious, less impactful -- and probably even the WRONG GOAL. So we create conflict for ourselves -- and make it harder to achieve our real goals.

Perhaps it's better to keep the goal as a broadly defined outcome, even if it's just an intuition or an idea, and think of the steps that will move you in the right direction, getting more and more clarity (and momentum, and results) as you go.

SMART goals have all the same problems as waterfall planning methods. Maybe sometimes they are a necessary evil? At the moment, I can't imagine why, but maybe some has a good counter-argument.
November 17, 2017 at 1:10 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Some goals benefit from SMART. Loosing 20 pounds weight in 20 weeks needs a very different process than 5 pounds in 20 weeks, or 20 pounds in 4 weeks. A fuzzy "lose a bit of weight" won't inspire me to do some research as to what is reasonable (and safe), and whether I should get professional help.

I use a mix of goals by result and by process, even within the same project. I estimate spring cleaning every shelf in the kitchen will take 8 hours, and I want it done in a month (so I can do another room next month). 20 work-days, so 1/2 hour per day. Some shelves take much longer than others, so I don't count shelves each day. Most days, my goal is so many hours. Every so often, I check if I'm doing as many shelves per hour as expected, and make appropriate changes.

The blog ThinkPurpose talks about inappropriate measurements a lot. Number of files moved off your desk rather than number of problems solved.

I like Stever Robinson's advice: Pick a goal that will give you an interesting journey, even if you don't reach the goal. A goal doesn't need to be SMART to do that.

Also, look at multiple goals. My teens select courses each year. Fortunately, the careers they want need the same courses. The teachers work hard to get kids to look ahead, but every year at the career fair I hear teens saying, "But I didn't know I wanted to be a nurse two years ago, when I stopped taking math." (I don't blame the teachers. The classrooms all have signs up saying "You need this class if you want to be a...")
November 17, 2017 at 3:43 | Registered CommenterCricket
That last is a good example why systems are better than goals. Let's say the desired outcome is "I am prepared for a good career" - even though I don't have a clear idea of what that means. A system-based approach would steer you towards courses that keep your options open - preparing you for a variety of careers and exposing you to different ideas and challenges and options so you can discover your strengths and interests. A goal-based approach encourages you to go all-in on a particular career direction before you are really ready to make such a commitment. The teachers and administrators ought to know that the former is more likely to give an optimum outcome while the latter causes delays frustrations and heartache.
November 17, 2017 at 7:12 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
And for the opposite of Seraphim's take (although this isn't normally applied to mass education, it could be), if you set your goal to be a career in X, you could prepare yourself for that career in record time by just focusing on the things you need to know to do X. I'm certain a highschool education could be completed in 2 years instead of 4 without working any harder, by skipping the things that aren't relevant to the designated career.

Not saying it should be applied to high-school education, but in general setting a concrete objective has the benefit of changing your focus and eliminating all the distractions so you get to your goal sooner.

I could be wrong about this, but I feel like a worthy goal should not look like "lose 20 pounds in 20 weeks", but should look like "be prepared to enjoy alpine vacation in February", which includes a measure of fitness, and the point being the healthy shape leads to something concrete, and isn't just an arbitrary measure.

And then I would with that goal in mind turn to figuring out how I should approach becoming prepared and implement that.
November 17, 2017 at 14:30 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan, I completely agree with you here. If one already has a clear goal, one can go straight at it. If the goal requires systematic progress over a long period of time, I still think creating a system for oneself to support continually progress toward the goal is a better recipe for success than making a giant plan, trying to get oneself motivated, etc.

In any case, if you already have a clear goal, there is no need to make it "SMART". And if you have a goal but it's not really clear yet, trying to make it "SMART" will probably make it dumb. Better to let the clarity emerge as you sense-and-respond your way forward, rather than trying to force clarity artificially.

To your weight-loss example, I think it works best to keep the purpose in mind, "always start with why". I am amazed how often that principle is neglected in work environments. It clears away so much mud and dross and unnecessary work and conflict.

BTW, Khan Academy is a great example of enabling students to go much faster (at their own pace) in subjects such as math.

Also, Scott Adams' book How To Fail At Almost Everything is mostly about using systems instead of goals, and how to craft those systems.
November 17, 2017 at 16:13 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim, if you tell most teens to take courses that will keep their doors open, they will start by saying, "I don't want a career that needs math," before even looking at what careers they might want. Starting with careers (emphasis on plural careers) they might like, then looking at what those careers need, is more likely to make them take the tough subjects.

Teenagers, at least here in Ontario, you don't have to commit a major while in high school. There's plenty of room in the schedule to take all the courses for needed for very different careers. My daughter is taking all the maths and sciences, plus two music classes, plus core English, ever year. She'll be able to take any math or science program, teaching, liberal arts, or music program in university.

(I encouraged both kids to take classes that are interesting or useful in other ways, in addition to career-related. The extra year is worth it. I also insisted they take French. They didn't learn enough to be useful, but did learn how to study a language -- which is very different from most of the subjects they enjoy.)

I definitely learn faster when I go at my own pace, at least when I'm interested. For my degree, I would probably have stalled and/or not tested myself properly without the school setting the pace.

Scott Young did the equivalent of an MIT 4-year computer science program in 1 year, as close as he could without registering. 35 classes. No distractions. No group projects. Focus on learning and doing rather than time listening to lectures. (Most of the material was online, and he substituted similar classes where necessary.)

My fitness goal is "Get down to healthy weight, so I my joints have less stress and last longer, and so I am less at risk for diabetes and other metabolic disorders." Also, "Reach well-accepted 'good' fitness level, such as jogging 5k or enjoying an intermediate fitness class."
November 17, 2017 at 23:53 | Registered CommenterCricket