Tag Archives: goals

Goal Setting and Affluence

You’ve heard of the Yale Goal-Setting Study, right? The one that goes like this:

In 1953 a team of researchers interviewed Yale’s graduating seniors, asking them whether they had written down the specific goals that they wanted to achieve in life. Twenty years later the researchers tracked down the same cohort and found that the 3% of people who had specific goals all those years before had accumulated more personal wealth than the other 97% of their classmates combined. The study is used to illustrate the power of focus.

Prof. Richard Wiseman, University of Hertfordshire psychologist and self-help myth-buster extraordinaire, says it best:

There is just one small problem… the experiment never actually took place.

A 2007 article in Fast Company corroborates the stance, in a slightly more eloquent (or should that be verbose?) manner:

According to [Silas] Spengler [secretary of the Class of 1953 since graduation] — who listed his future occupation in the Yale yearbook as “personnel administration following a course of business administration at Harvard,” and who instead went into the navy and then to law school — he never wrote down any personal goals, nor did he and his classmates ever participate in a research study on personal goals.

As further evidence, Spengler provided excerpts from the 1953 yearbook. No one stated personal goals, but most of the graduates predicted their future lines of work: Roberto Goizueta, Coke’s CEO, predicted his future would be with Cuba’s Compani Industrial del Tropico S.A.; William Donaldson and Dan Lufkin, founders of Wall Street’s Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, forecast futures in law. Forrest Mars, Jr., now chairman and CEO of Mars, Inc., listed “no” for employment possibilities.

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.