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Is Goal Setting a Total Waste of Time?

Goal Setting

A lot can be said about goal-setting and in my opinion a lot of those words are a complete waste of time. Not that your typical self-help guru is wrong about the importance of goal-setting, because they aren’t. The problem I have with all of this talk about goal setting is that too many people become focused on setting perfect goals rather than achieving them. What is a “good” goal? Is it specific enough? Is it achievable? How will I measure it?

Thoughts on Goal Setting: Is it worht it?

What is an action step versus an action item? What’s the difference between an outcome and an objective?…blah, blah, blah. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself many times. The spirit of goal-setting is that you want to know where you are heading – fine – but ultimately you want to achieve something meaningful (other than having a bunch of words on a sheet of paper with the word “Goals” at the top). General Omar Bradley famously claimed: “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” This is because once you have your direction picked out, the most important thing is to start moving and too often amateurs like to hide their inability to take action behind the veil of “strategic thinking.”

Now before Tony Robbins shows up at my house with a bucket of tar and a bushel of feathers (do they sell them in bushels?) let me just say that strategy is obviously important. In fact, strategy or goal setting is so important that human beings have invented a word to describe it: play time, a complete lack of strategy; a series of actions without a specific purpose.  If you want to actually achieve something, rather than just driving around in circles (no offense to Nascar fans) then yes, you need to set some goals. My point is simply that if you’re like the achievers I work with, people who are smart, people who have great ideas, then you’ll need to make sure you don’t let “perfect” get in the way of “good.”

You need to remember that the best ideas don’t come to you in a vacuum. Even if you don’t have the best plan, get out there, stir things up, and see what happens. The measure of your abilities will always be in what you actually achieved not what you hoped to achieve.

Goals are good, but actions are better.

Info on the author: Chris Cowan is an executive coach and an expert in adult and organizational learning. He is currently working as a consultant with the Federal government. He has previously worked for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Leadership Development and the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Previous consulting clients include, Fannie Mae, Samsung USA, the United States Air Force, and Microsoft. He has written or co-authored 13 articles on adult learning and is a certified action learning coach and training evaluator. Chris received his Masters from Harvard in 2005 and is currently writing his dissertation on transformational leadership at the George Washington University. He currently drives a 2008 Dodge Viper. Feel free to contact him with questions at