Do Goals Limit your Success

If you are not living in a rabbit hole, am sure you would have heard about “Goals”/ “Goal setting” and how important they are.

Today let us explore the other dimension of Goals – Do they limit your success?

Let me share a story to begin with, from the great epic Mahabharat – 

“Arjun the warrior prince went with his brothers to take part in the swayamvar (the process of selection of groom) of Draupadi the Panchal princess. The contest was to shoot an arrow at the eye of a rotating fish (fixed to the ceiling) while looking down at the reflection of the same in water. Since he was the greatest archer of his time, he won the contest and came back home with the bride. At the door he announced to his mother – “Mother see what I have won, in the archery contest”. His mother without looking at the bride asked the brothers to share the prize. And they being obedient sons spent rest of their life sharing Draupadi as wife among all 5 brothers.” 

I am sure sharing a wife among 5 brothers would have its own complexities but let us analyse the above story from a goal setting perspective. Arjun’s goal was not getting married to the princess, his goal was to win the archery contest and which he did. If his goal was getting married, he would have shared the news differently with his mother, maybe something like – “Mother see I got married to the beautiful princess”. He shared with his mother what he thought was his achievement – winning the competition and again proving that he is the best archer in the kingdom. 

Goals very quickly narrow our vision and creates what is called as tunnel vision – which is also called as focus. The problem with it is that you ignore everything else around us. It is like driving a car with a blackened windscreen with a small hole to see through, only big enough to see the road. While it will help in maintaining focus by removing all the distractions imagine the problems it will create. 

Goals also act as limiting factors and that is why most of the businesses have a target and a stretch target, to avoid the limiting factors (not sure how much it helps). Goals establish an artificial barrier to what you can achieve otherwise. It creates a false sense of achievement & success while you could have achieved multi fold. This is very clear in sports – till 14th May, 1983 the under 10 seconds record for 100 metre sprint was not broken (from the start of athletics), Carl Lewis broke the barrier and ran 100 metre on that day in 9.97 seconds and something changed – the artificial barrier / goal was no more valid and post that 140+ athletes have run 100 metre in sub 10 secs. What has happened post 1983, the artificial barrier is removed, and it suddenly liberated the performances. 

The 10 seconds artificial barrier still exists for ladies as no women till date has run the 100 metre sprint in less than 10 seconds. The current world record stands at 10.49 seconds set by Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988. Come on ladies it has been 32 years….break it and go sub 10 seconds. Apologies for getting carried away as 100 metre sprint was my favourite track event and my best time was 12.8 seconds back in my school days. 

You often hear that you should be comfortable dealing with ambiguity and then comes the definitive and rigid goals. Sounds contradictory, isn’t it? 

Randomness & Ambiguity are the fertile land for the crop of creativity. Rigid goal driven methods may build efficiencies but certainly not creativity. So, companies and individuals looking for innovation have to move far away from rigid goals and rigid process at least in the departments that deal with innovation as there always will be areas where creativity is secondary & efficiency is primary. 

So many times. halfway through I have experienced that the goal is not good enough and I could have stretched it much ahead. Do share your experiences.

I think the reason for that is you are standing outside the field and trying to set a goal, high probability that either it would be too easy or too tough and very low probability that it will be optimum. Irrespective of what it is all the scenarios will end up frustrating you once in the act and you realise. 

Another big issue with goals is that most of them are set and validated using the forecasting methods which depend heavily on the past data and trends. Which means that you will always go incremental. Thus, you see so few instances of breakthroughs, innovations etc as it has to be nonlinear and not tied to the past. 

Then what should you do?
In my opinion, you need to set directions and not goals. As the journey is always more enjoyable than the destination. All the learning happens while undertaking the journey rather than arriving at the destination.
 

I know this post may raise a lot of questions, disagreements, and thoughts. Please do share as the richness of the experience is in sharing the differing views. 

Do not miss noticing your beautiful princess, like Arjuna.

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