So, it's that time of year again. I'm beginning to start to put together personal and professional goals for the next year. I tend to do this process every fall so I don't get lost over the winter and watch too much television.

Everyone keeps telling me that I need to have SMART[1] goals, but I don't believe it. Anything really great that I have ever undertaken has started with a goal that was COMPLETELY INSANE at the time. There was no possible way to measure it and that was because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Clearly, I was naive when I attempted these feats, but I'll let you in on a little secret...

I didn't fail at all of them!

Perhaps by trying to relate future challenges to things I already know, I prevent myself from pursuing possibilities that I can't imagine yet? The difficulty of course, is imagining goals that are not natural extensions of your previous life experiences. How could I possibly imagine what doesn't directly relate to my past experiences? Why, by using my own creativity of course! Perhaps this is was the death of SMART for me. Once I realized that it didn't really allow for creativity and excitement, it was over for me.

Clearly, I have a more adventurous philosophy regarding goal-setting, that requires a certain ignorance of reality (or at least the popular reality most people share). I think I'm going to call my philosophy what it is, NAIVE.

Now, I won't advocate this for everyone. There are some people that need a highly methodical technique to advance themselves from goal-to-goal, or need to mark off a check-box on a form at their end of year evaluation. NAIVE is not for them. They should stick with SMART. However I think there are others like myself out there that are completely uninspired by the SMART goal setting technique, who are longing for inspirational, creative goals. NAIVE is for them!

** N-A-I-V-E

Here's the new acronym: N-A-I-V-E. When you say it, you should say it as if you were singing along to the children's song, "BINGO".

*** NEW

If you aren't making something new, why are you even talking about it?


Hopefully your goal will blow other people's minds, but even if it doesn't, it should at least blow your mind!

*** Impossible

Seemingly impossible anyway. Something you have no idea how to begin doing, other than dive right in and pray.

*** Vexing

It should be hard. Really hard. Just barely on the accomplishable side of impossible.

*** Exciting

If you aren't excited about it, it is a useless goal. End of story. If you aren't inspired by the idea, you shouldn't be working on it!

** But, What's the Difference?

I have read a number of times that one of the marks of a top performer is that they set incremental goals that are achievable and logically flow from that which they already know. This way, they are continually growing their skills throughout their lives and in the end are quite skilled. Not being a smart top performer like that, I prefer to form a goal that seems absolutely impossible and see if I can make it happen.

A SMART goal might look something like this:

"Learn to program Java by attending a class this semester. Score at least 90% in the course."

By comparison, a NAIVE goal might look like this:

"Figure out what's going on with the Ruby on Rails stack by developing a network monitoring application to compete with HP OpenView using all open source technologies."

It's not that the action tied to the SMART goal is bad. Enhancing one's education is always a great thing to do, but in my mind, it's a terrible goal. To plan to take a class and pass the tests is not a goal, it is a TASK.

Is there any danger if you don't pass the class? Not Really.

Will someone be surprised that you were able to accomplish such a feat? No.

Does it keep you up at night thinking about the possibilities? Probably not.

So it's not a goal.

I suppose the part of the SMART goals I disagree with most is the "Realistic" part. If it is realistic, why haven't you already done it? If it's realistic, it's not a goal! For me, my goals are not a TODO list, they are a set of challenges to be overcome in the next year that would likely kill me if I actually tried to accomplish all of them at the same time. Some years I meet the challenge of nearly all of my goals and some years I don't (some years I really don't [2]).

** When SMART is NAIVE

I think part of the reason that I don't like SMART goals is that I have a long-standing perception that more people in the modern industrial world fail due to LOW EXPECTATIONS than any other three causes combined. People who are never expected to achieve, never achieve. I could play it safe and use a checklist of SMART goals that I could easily map out which, while I haven't done them before, I have a pretty good idea of how to accomplish. But where is the challenge? Where is the creativity? How can I get excited about something that is that easy?

Some will argue that this is a lot of hard work. They are probably right. For someone who is using their annual goal planning process to mark off check-boxes to get a raise, this would seem like a lot of work. However, for someone who is thrilled to learn something new, it sounds like a challenge. What is different between a NAIVE goal and a SMART goal is that the NAIVE goal is inspirational. Your annual goals and objectives should inspire you to achieve things you never thought possible before!

When a goal is inspirational:

  1. The goal tends to be accomplished quickly once work begins on it
  2. Work begins on it quickly because it is exciting

When was the last time you were excited about your TODO list?

** What are my Goals?

Now, with that said, what are my goals for the coming year? Well, they are private for one thing. But I will tell you that at least one of them involves making sure I update this site more often.

  2. Some years I completely forget that I have goals and go do other things.