Goals or No Goals?

Much of the success literature of the past fifty years put a strong emphasis on goal setting, goal writing, goal reviewing, and so on. Declare it, list it, check it. You’ve got to name it to claim it!

Many of the current lifehack gurus espouse a no-goals philosophy; more of a just-move-in-the-right-direction sort of mentality. Some go so far as to claim that the mere vocalizing of your goals diminishes the odds of their being achieved. That the act of sharing it with others gives us the same sense of satisfaction as had we actually achieved it.

So which is the most effective path to getting what you want? The easy answer is whichever method works best for you. But I’d like to consider an alternative to traditional goal setting.

It’s called SOP. Standard Operating Procedures.

Made famous by the military, government bureaucracies, and industry, SOPs are defined as “detailed, written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific function.” In other words, systems are put in place to make sure that what gets done gets done properly each and every time.

Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work and founder of Box of Crayons, a group dedicated to helping organizations excel, gave a great example of SOPs in nature:

“Birds don’t have a long list of to-do’s or rules and procedures on how to fly. They follow two or three key principles, and that allows them to decide the best behaviour. If you imagine one of those big swirling flocks of starlings, they 1. stay as close to the other birds as possible, 2. fly towards to center of the flock, and 3. don’t run into any other bird. These simple rules allow them to become a self-guided, self-governing group.”

So perhaps instead of specific goal setting, we should create a Standard Operating Procedure for our life or our career. For example:

1. I will only work with friendly, courteous clients who respect and value my time.
2. I will only work on projects that engage my soul and maximize my core talents.
3. I will only work on projects that are in line with my moral compass.

We start out slow. Over time we begin to do more of what we want to do, and less and less of what we don’t. Now some may view this as naive well-wishing. After all, business is war! Success comes from long hours doing work we hate for people we don’t care about. Right?

But is that really true? Does it have to be that way? Yes, work does require effort, sometimes major effort. But if it is something you love it doesn’t feel so much like “work.” I don’t know about you, but when I am immersed in a creative project I am excited about, I can joyously work for hours on end. I even forget to eat sometimes. And I like eating. A lot.

Maybe SOPs are the ticket to success. Or maybe they’re just for the birds.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone