Kill SMART Goals, Create Aspirations Instead

Every January I face the New Year thinking about how I want to define success in the next 12 months.  But this year is different.  I will not be writing out a new set of goals.  I am abandoning the entire concept of driving my work by goal statements.

Before you conclude that my year will be a brainless drift from one thing to another, let me share with you my new belief about goals.  The wonderful SMART goals we were all trained to write (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-focused, Time-bound) are a real killer of creativity and innovation.  Proponents of MBO (Management by Objectives) encourage goal statements to be “stretch”, written in a way that is slightly beyond my current capabilities.  Stretch goals have a higher target to reach, one that will increase skills and abilities.

In reality, I find stretch goals just raise the ante on volume or reduce time.  If I do 5 in the previous year, I’ll be asked to produce 6 this year.  If I took 4 weeks before, I am now asked to do it in 3.  Do more with less, heard that one before.  Increasing volume and reducing time may help grow the business but do little to grow the thought and ideas of the worker.

To promote innovation, creativity, new thoughts and ideas, I need goals that are not specific and measureable.  If I can define and measure it, I am already directing or at least implying how the work is to be done.  In my way of looking at it, work that is defined and prescribed is hardly innovative.

So rather than SMART goals, I am penning for myself aspirations for 2015.  They will be non-specific, and non-measurable; they will give me focus and direction but no prescribed outcome.   They may even be non-attainable, at least as they are written in January.  Subsequent mistakes and errors may cause me to change direction and focus.  Welcoming mistakes and learning from them is the best way I know of to develop new approaches.  They will be non-results-focused because I want to focus on the journey instead of the destination.

To illustrate, here are two of my 2015 aspirations:

  • Ask big questions and seek others who have tackled them before. See how their answers measure to mine.  Be ready to change my thoughts or opinions accordingly.
  • Grow and deepen my relationships with others. They are my support when times get tough. Consciously seek out new people who think differently than I do.

Aspirations will promote growth and new ideas. The actual work I need to accomplish in 2015 will take care of itself, it always does.  If my aspirations guide me this year, I’ll produce new and creative thought that will propel me ahead in the years to come.