When are the costs of achievement too great?

sometimes admitting defeat is a good thing
We all know we are supposed to set goals, work towards them diligently, and thereby achieve them.
But what happens when circumstances change along the way?

  • Do you carry on regardless?
  • Do you Drop your goal like a hot potato? – any excuse will do
  • Do you adjust and re-assess?

I read some really interesting goal theory works over the break which put into question how we, as a society, approach our goals.
Positive thinking proponents advocate that we set a goal, and if we are positive enough we will achieve it. We tell ourselves ‘everything will be OK when I reach my goal’.
Professor of Organizational Behaviour Chris Kayes from George Washington University has conducted extensive research showing how goals can become part of peoples’ personal identity. So, uncertainty about reaching the goal becomes a threat not just to the plans but to ourselves as individuals. We add an extra layer of weight – sometimes subconsciously – ‘I will be OK when I reach my goal’.

This would be all well and good if achieving every goal we set was simply a matter of leveraging known factors. But it isn’t!

One of the biggest problems to setting goals AND REACHING THEM is issue of “unintended consequences” – it is almost impossible to ever only change one thing without causing a flow-on effect elsewhere. Formulating a vision of the future requires you to isolate some aspect of your organisation, or role, and to focus on that more rigorously aspect at the expense of others. So when we set a goal, often the process of striving for it unveils various unforeseen, and often unintentional, events and obstacles.

We can become obsessed with goals

‘If I don’t reach my goal I am not OK’ – Thinking of ourselves as “failures” versus “having a failure” is a modern phenomenon that seems to have arisen with the growth of banking and credit agencies during the early 1900s. In business if every venture we undertake is not a success then we by association are also unsuccessful – and this personalisation adds impetus to our need not to fail.
The resultant dogged need to achieve a goal has been the undoing of many a corporation – General Motors obsession with improving its market share, compared to the new Japanese competitors, lead to it ultimately going bankrupt in 2009; Enron; etc.
On an individual level, mountaineers repeatedly have to be rescued (and unfortunately, sometimes die) – bad weather, poorly maintained equipment, lack of skills all contribute BUT is the real culprit their over-riding need to achieve their goal regardless of the conditions they are experiencing on the day? Research show these people push themselves beyond logical limits because their personal sense of value, their sense of self, is attached to reaching the peak.

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As entrepreneurs and business owners is it more opportune to think of ourselves like scientists?

Conducting experiments and learning, thereby having the success of, at the ery least, gaining knowledge of what not to do next time![/box]  
More recent findings are beginning to reveal the success of entrepreneurs isn’t because they have “vision”, or “passion, or “perseverance” – it is their improvisational flexibility; they are open to changing not just which path to take towards some pre-determined objective, but also have a willingness to change the destination itself – just like scientists they are flexible enough to change their goals as they see fit.
To use the words of someone semi-famous I heard this week:

I like it when I am wrong because I learn something, but I also really, really like being right!

So, I am not advising you immediately dump all your goals; quite the opposite – it can be profitable to set goals, but it is unprofitable to pursue those goals mindlessly.

Ask yourself these four questions about the ‘difficult to achieve goals’ currently on your To-Do list:
  1. Why is this goal so important to me; am I holding on to the wrong goal just to prove I’m not a quitter?
  2. What is the biggest obstacle to achieving my goal?
  3. What can I do to break through that obstacle? (if the answer here is ‘nothing’ go back to 1.)
  4. Do I need to break this huge goal into smaller, more bite-sized action steps?

P.S. To keep this as a simple blog post I haven’t referenced the research cited here – but if you are interested place a comment and I can provide more detail.

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About the Author

Why own a business post - Eve Blackall Smart Accounting image
Eve Blackall the small business answer to The Supernanny.
At Smart Accounting you work one-on-one with Eve who has already assisted hundreds of business owners increase cash-flow, grow profits, also ensuring those businesses fetch the highest price when it comes time to sell.[/box]