The Problem with Goal-Setting is The Goal

Goal-setting should be constrained to factors in your control: that is, pursue goals that best prepare that arrow’s trajectory.

Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, …. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. — Viktor Frankl

What is the goal of the archer who aims at the target? It’s to hit the target.

But what about the archer shooting the target is actually within the archer’s control? The archer can control their poise, their draw, their breath, their distance from the target, the day they choose to shoot the arrow. But as soon as the archer let’s go, that’s it. The rest is left up to external pressures. A gust of wind can push the arrow off course. The target can move. The weather can change.

Stoic designers can’t control the success of their product. Whether you hit 1,000 subs or not is determined by timing, topic, competing products, the news, even public health. Letting the arrow go to be acted upon by external pressures is critical to that arrow reaching its target, but you only control things up to that point.

Your goal, then, should not be to hit a specific target. Rather, goal-setting should be constrained to factors in your control: that is, pursue goals that best prepare that arrow’s trajectory.

  • What can you do to better time your release?

  • What can you change about the way you work to make the trajectory of your “arrow” more consistent, thus predictable?

  • How can you better strengthen your organizational draw?

The rest is out of your control. If you miss the target, don’t lose your shit because the arrow went wide. Observe something about your actions before your miss that allow you to line-up a better shot in the future.

There is also something to be said about the archer allegory surrounding practice. An archer shoots hundreds of arrows consistently as part of a routine, before developing any kind of real understanding about the likelihood they’ll hit the target. Stoic designers that shoot only one arrow will probably miss. Predictably high success rate is correlated with many releases. Organizations that are not designed to suffer many misses will fail.

Craft virtuously.

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Remember that design is not art, but a practice.

Michael Schofield