Setting Goals: A Good Idea?

Could set­ting goals be det­ri­ment­al to achiev­ing our tar­gets? Yes, say a num­ber of “man­age­ment schol­ars” research­ing the issue, but only because they may lead to “bursts of intense effort in the short term” or be too nar­row and poorly defined.

The com­pre­hens­ive art­icle look­ing at their work has some inter­est­ing anec­dotes and some good advice for those who con­sist­ently stumble when it comes to set­ting and keep­ing goals.

What’s often required is a “learn­ing goal” – one where someone pledges to come up with, for example, five approaches to a thorny prob­lem – rather than a per­form­ance goal that assumes that the prob­lem will auto­mat­ic­ally be solved. […]

Rather than reflex­ively rely­ing on goals, argues Max Bazer­man, a Har­vard Busi­ness School pro­fess­or and the fourth coau­thor of Goals Gone Wild [pdf], we might also be bet­ter off cre­at­ing work­places and schools that foster our own inher­ent interest in the work. “There are lots of organ­iz­a­tions where people want to do well, and they don’t need those goals,” he says.