Are your goals fuzzy?

By the end of this post, you will understand how to get 25% better at solving problems.

OK, that metric is completely arbitrary and made up. Sorry.

But our brains like certainty. You have a goal of what you want to get out of reading this, such as reducing boredom or learning something new.

That’s probably one reason for the popularity for the “7 easy dinners to make this week,” “37 Tweets to Make You Laugh Every Time” or “12 Tips to Train Like an Army Soldier” type articles. When you click you’re getting something clear, quantifiable and relatively predictable.

Usually, I’m a fan of goals that have a clear-cut metric for success. There’s value knowing exactly what you want and naming it.

In high school, I vowed to not cut my hair until I reached a certain time in cross country or track. I refused to cut my hair even after I got injured and failed to reach my goal for two years.

But I finally made it, and it was highly satisfying when my team held a ceremony to shave my head.

Then I set out to run and drink a beer every single day for a year. I ended up going for a total of three years.

At age 31 I ran some of my fastest times ever. If I hadn’t made that public goal there’s no way I would have followed through — and been written about in WIRED, Runner’s World and elsewhere.

I can be fanatical with goals. But there are times when the way we structure goals make no sense.

Sometimes, we have to learn to be OK with uncertainty.

Performance outcome goals make sense when the outcome is easily predicted and quantified.

In other words, if there is a linear relationship between your input X and your output Y, then SMART goals make a lot of sense. You can tie financial rewards to how hard you work or how many hours you devoted to a task.

But what if your job deals with innovation? What if your job is to come up with a new solution or product that’s never been thought of before? What if predicting the future is… kind of fuzzy?

Do you declare that your next project will be 32 percent more creative? Do you set a goal to double your innovation year over year? Do you reward how well you predicted the future of your field?

How do you solve this problem of setting goals when the outcome is uncertain?

Two of the most helpful concepts I’ve come across are 1) Focusing on “why” rather than what, and 2) Using “fuzzy goals.”

Start with why

Start with why is a concept Simon Sinek explains in my favorite Ted Talk. He explains that great companies start with a belief, a purpose, a reason for existing before they get to what they do.

I put this into practice with the social media goals at Marquette University.

We start with why we want to create content for social media: 1) We want to show the faces and people of Marquette, and 2) We want to showcase the things to do on and around campus.

With those two goals in mind, we create a list of people and things we want to feature, and then add, subtract and work on these goals over time. This list will grow, shrink and evolve.

Fuzzy goals

Sometimes, you won’t know where you will end up. And that’s OK.

“Creative work is like a voyage of discovery,” according to Dave Gray, who writes and illustrates around the ideas.

He calls this voyage having “fuzzy goals.”

“When you embark on the journey you almost always have a goal of some kind,” he says, “but it’s important to be open to those things you will find that you don’t expect.”

And that’s not a bad thing.

In this case, you have a general destination in mind, but the specifics of the roadmap become more clear as you go along.

“You may not find India, sea monsters or the fountain of youth,” Gray writes. “But just because you didn’t achieve your initial goal does not mean the voyage was unsuccessful.”

The fuzzy goal concept may seem scary, but it’s really the only way to chart new territory — especially in an uncertain and rapidly changing world.

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity:

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