Being SMART may not be so smart after all. 

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, I’m guessing that some of them are still in the works, such as those involving goals for the entire year. Are they making you frustrated? It’s no secret that, along with performance evaluations, goal setting is one of those things people never quite learn to love. And yet, setting goals is one of those things everyone (particularly authors and bloggers) expects successful business people to do, despite the fact that successful business people often hate doing things other people expect of them.

But tradition is tradition, so on January 1, I sat down, pen in hand, to jot some notes. And all I could think of was the old organizational command to make your plans SMARTSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. Back in the day, these were supposed to be the delimiters of sure-fire goal setting. If your goal couldn’t stand up to those, it just wasn’t making the grade.

But this is now, and now is the age of innovation. And, being a lover (and creator) of innovation, I asked myself whether I should still be following the processes of an earlier era. Here’s what emerged…

Specific stayed, because if a goal isn’t specific, how do you ever figure out where you’re headed?

And I kept Measurable, because although I don’t like rating systems, I do like to have some idea of how far I’ve come, and whether I’m still on track.

Relevant made me think hard. When you have a very broad range of applications, or you’re trying something completely new, then relevance may not be known at all during the planning stage, and can only emerge from the process. (For the fashion-aware, consider the problem of ‘orphan’ accessories. I once had a fabulous, but useless, beaded belt that I kept around for ages. Then one day an ensemble appeared in my closet that just screamed for turquoise beads.) Sometimes a thing will make itself relevant just by chance, which is a good reason for having a looser definition of the word.

Then there was Time-bound: a no-brainer because I was thinking ‘goals for 2016’ rather than the next decade or millennium.

Which brought me back to Attainable. That, too, seemed obvious…until I did a quick check in an online dictionary and learned that Attainable things are within your reach.

‘Within reach’ suggests that you can get what you want without a whole lot of stretch or effort. Now, if you keep a scoreboard that you like to decorate with a lot of wins, put plenty of ‘attainables’ on your to-do list. But if innovation and change are what you seek, then SMART goals need a warning label: DANGER: Attainable goals may be damaging to your organization’s ability to innovate.

Focusing on attainable goals could also be a turn-off to the very people who are most capable of handling risk, making discoveries, and creating innovation! Those are the people who rarely ask if something is possible or not. They just go for the goal – asking bigger questions, covering more ground, trying harder, and stretching further.

In Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books, there was the White Queen who said, “Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!” No one would accuse her of SMART planning – and yet, believing the impossible to be possible is a sure way to bypass the barrier of achievability. Can you imagine what might happen if your goals didn’t need to be achievable? I can.

  1. You’d have nothing to lose. With no one expecting sure-fire success, you could feel free to take some wild-ass swings. Sure, some will be whiffs, but you might just knock the ball out of the park. (Believe it or not, fear is the biggest cause of failure.)
  1. You can still go for simple solutions. If they don’t work, you’ll be right: your goal wasn’t achievable. But you’d be primed to succeed, so you’d try an alternative path. And another, and another. And should you eventually get there, so much the better! (Being right and winning are not the same – but they’re not mutually exclusive.)
  1. You’d forever leave the ranks of the narrow-minded; the people who put the ‘no’ in innovation, joining instead the ones who bring positive change and brighter futures.

May your ‘impossible’ of 2016 become your successful innovation of 2017!

Make Failing a Daily Habit

If you’re looking for a rah-rah success read, you’re on the wrong page. However, if you stay, I promise you won’t be sorry.

I love failure. And I am an expert at it.

I fail every single day. Sometimes I do it more than once, which makes me even happier.

So now you may be asking yourself, has DrJ slipped a gear or what?

Nope. You’re getting, as they say on Twitter, #TRUTH.

Because if you are not failing, you are not trying hard enough.

Or, as the poet Robert Browning, suitor of the elusive Elizabeth Barrett, wrote: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” (Spoiler alert: He did marry her despite robust parental interference, and apparently the result was quite heavenly.)

So, what’s your excuse for not failing?

In an informal survey I just completed, I found that the reasons for not failing fall into three bins.

Some people just don’t see their failures. Or shortcomings. Or, for that matter, reality, in its many shapes and forms. Now actually, this is failing, but in such a way that it does no one any good. You can’t learn from something you never noticed, so it doesn’t count in my book. Also, in the long run, it makes for a lonely life. Sharing our frailties is a great way to make friends. How cool is it to have the freedom to share who you are, warts and all, with someone, and to know that they’ll still want to hang out with you?

Then there is the Bizarro World strategy, where everything is opposite. Instead of ‘You can’t win if you don’t try’, they recite ‘You can’t fail if you avoid participating.’ At work, these are the folks who clock in; drink a lot of coffee; grouse about office politics or the weather or any of the million other things that add no value, and over which they have no control. By the end of the day they might have managed to fit in some modestly productive activities. But maybe if they attempted something big, or at least new, and failed at it, and repeated the cycle a few times, eventually they’d discover what really living is about.

The third group is made up of those who do participate, but never bite off more than they can chew. And swallow. And digest. (How is this possible? Maybe it’s genetics, like curly hair or funny shaped toes.) Pristine resumes that show ‘progressive levels of responsibility’ and other things that HR managers love, are carefully cultivated by these folks. They would never, ever get involved in anything so messy as multiple career changes, startup ventures, or traveling to the steppes of Central Asia to study the history and culture of yurt-dwelling Mongolian nomads.

Becoming an entrepreneur is how I discovered that failing isn’t nearly as bad as people think. You can fail and do better next time. You can fail in one area while making huge progress in another. You can fail, and in the process, discover that your true meaning in life is totally not what you’ve been doing for the past X number of years, and be utterly grateful for that life-changing fail. And I’m pretty lucky, because that’s what happened to me, and now I get to work every day with a bunch of awesome people who have no fear of failure.

We accept failure willingly because the heaven we’re reaching for is really, really far from our grasp. And we’re not going to be satisfied by lowering the goalpost. In fact, we’d like to raise it even higher.

The fact is, getting there may only be 10% of the fun. The other 90% is in the striving, the sharing, and the everyday satisfaction of beautiful teamwork.