Non-Authoritative Thoughts on Goals

There are a number of different “kinds” of goals. By “kinds,” I mean general groupings, which range from the sublime to the mundane to the wasted effort.

Here is my non-authoritative list of these groups/kinds:

  • the foregone conclusion
  • the slacker
  • the hindsight
  • the stretch
  • the impossible dream
  • desperation
  • six-P’s

The list is non-authoritative because even though I have been guilty of each over the course of my life, and I have seen others fall into the same traps, nobody in their right mind would consider me an “authority” on goal setting. If I was an authority on goal setting, well, then you’d already know it, and I’d have a series of books, videos, and seminars that one-and-all would pay through the nose to have/attend.

So let’s discuss each quickly, so I can make my point.

The “foregone conclusion” is a goal that has no real meaning. For instance, “this year I will not murder anyone.” For the vast majority of us, this is not an issue. It is a “foregone conclusion” that we will not murder anyone, so why state it in the form of a goal?

The “slacker goal” is something which does not make you grow, or cause a positive action in your life. Something like “I will not waste my time reading any books this year” is an example. Unless you are addicted to reading, which some are, this goal will not return anything positive in your life. But it seems really reasonable to slackers, hence the name.

With the “hindsight goal,” we have two options. First, we might say something like “I improved X% last year, so I should be able to improve X% again this year. With this example, we are using historical information to build a future goal. Second, we might say something like “during the first 9 months of the year we added 6 goobers, so by the end of the year we should be at 8 goobers.” Again, this is using historical evidence to predict future goal amounts. Unless adding 2 goobers per quarter is difficult, this is also a fairly meaningless goal — it is not actually a goal, but a prediction based on empirical evidences.

We hear about the “stretch goal” so much that is must be a good thing, right? The premise is that we take a hindsight goal, and add a percent to it, so it is harder to attain. We will have to “stretch” in order to achieve it. I have these at work, as I assume everyone else does. This fallacy is so ubiquitous that attempting to denigrate the “stretch goal” seems downright heretical.

The “impossible dream goal” is based on the fallacy that “if you shoot for the stars and fall short, you still hit the moon.” Yea, sounds good on a bumper sticker, but in real life, it is worse than meaningless. You feel like you have a “real goal,” but deep down you know it is meaningless because you cannot attain it, so you are going to settle for failure, and congratulate yourself for doing so.

The “desperation goal” is where you say something like “in order to make our sales for this quarter, we have to do $X in sales per day! Unless $X is reasonably attainable, and there is a real plan in place for achieving that, then this is pretty meaningless. Since that is obvious to those who have this “goal,” it is actually de-motivating.

Finally we have come to the “six-P’s” goal. “What are the six P’s?” you ask. Well, here’s your answer — and my point to this blog:

Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

The problem with every category of goals listed is that there is an implication that setting the goal, even if it is a ludicrous one, will somehow magically make things work. It virtually never does.

Oh, yea, there is the odd anecdote here and there about some dude who put a picture of a house on his dream board, and is now living in that very house, or someone writing a pretend check for some huge number, just to have it “magically” appear. But for the other six billion folks on the planet, that doesn’t work. It would be nice if it did, but, hey, this is reality, so let’s keep it real.

Every classification of goals before the “6-P’s” lacks anything close to planning. I can honestly say that not one of the “stretch goals” I have received from my managers ever included a planning session. Even when asked, no formalized planning was done because it is simply not part of the paradigm of goal setting — especially in the corporate world.

This is where those who simply have a gift for planning things out will percolate to the top. Or, perhaps, those who learn how to go through the whole process of setting a goal, then making detailed plans for how to get there.

So the “Six-P’s Goal Setting Paradigm” is simply this:

  • decide where you want to go,
  • determine each quality or factor you have to have to get there,
  • study out each of the qualities and factors that are needed — do your research so completely that you become an authority on each point,
  • using that information, make a detailed plan on how you will obtain each of those qualities or factors, including who/where/how you will need to learn or acquire each of them,
  • every time you discover a new quality or factor, add it to the list and start over — you cannot continue to the next bullet point until they are all done,
  • now that you have the complete list, calculate the cost in time, money, resources needed for each or them,
  • chart out how each will be achieved, and in what order they need to be done,
  • put the events on an actual calendar, with actual dates for each to be accomplished, and very real notes on what quality or factor it is tied to,
  • sit back and look at your first actual goal, then get to work.

Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. Until you actually go through these steps, you really don’t have a goal, you just have some formalized wishful thinking.

One last point: don’t get stuck chasing things that have nothing to do with your plan of action. Stay completely focused on this goal.


Okay, so one more “last point.”

I’m not an authority; I’m just passing along something that is working for me — and I am about to put into practice right now. There are a lot of “authorities” who will tell you all about their wonderful wisdom concerning goals.

But here’s the thing: unless they are a recognized expert in successful goal setting (meaning you recognize them as such), their comments are about as useful as mine.

If they have to introduce themselves, then they’re probably no more of an authority than I am. If they have to introduce themselves as a “recognized expert,” and you didn’t already recognize them, then I think that speaks for itself.

I am passing these comments along to help those who are stuck wondering why their goal setting isn’t working. Mine never did. I have never had a corporate goal, especially one set by a manager, that was worth the ink used to print it out. They never include the planning needed to make them work. If you find the list I provided useful, please let me know.