Tag Archives: Goals

Why You Don’t Need a Business Plan

13 Jan

You might not know where you’re going, but you have to keep moving.

One of my favorite topics of conversation, much to the dismay of my dinner companions, is the tension between making plans and taking action. As the name of my blog suggests, I subscribe to the “act first” philosophy, but I certainly understand the need for detailed plans. Especially when the goal you want to achieve will take a long time and will involve lots of people.

However, most of the time we use planning as an excuse. It becomes a rationalization to keep us from acting and this is particularly true when trying to start a business. Any good expert on entrepreneurship will tell you to start with some market analysis and a strong business plan. I think they’re wrong. Here is my alternate approach: start with inspiration.

The famous screen-writing coach Robert McKee has useful definition for a “hack.” He says a hack is a writer, “who second-guesses his audience.”  Instead of using his muse to drive his work he asks himself what the market can support. He condescends. He may make some money by selling some snake oil, but at what cost to his reputation and his soul. Steven Pressfield expands,

“The hack is like the politician who consults the polls before he takes a position…it can pay off, being a hack. Given the depraved state of American culture, a slick dude can make millions being a hack. But even if you succeed, you lose, because you’ve sold out your Muse, and your Muse is you, the best part of yourself, where your finest and only true work comes from.”

“That all sounds nice in theory,” you might say, “but there are practical considerations. No one is going to hand you money without a solid business plan.” Of course. I would never argue against this point. It isn’t wrong. But it is incomplete. The entrepreneurship process doesn’t start with a business plan. It starts with your passion. It starts with a compulsion to solve a problem.

Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “…often times the customer doesn’t even know what he wants until you show it to him.” So, how far can market research take you when the markets don’t even exist yet? If you truly want to be an innovator then you need to consider that the mechanical models of business development are lacking. No one can predict the future so if you want to succeed then you’ll have to do something scary and profound…you’ll have to make decisions in a fog. Incomplete information is the playground of the leader and the entrepreneur. Learn to enjoy the gray. Learn to embrace it. All creation is born in it.


Two Types of Goals: Temporary vs. Historical

4 Jan

Donald Herbert wants to be successful. He wants to have plenty of money, a happy family, a healthy body, and a career that gives meaning to his life. Donald is like a lot of high achievers in that he wants the whole package. But not all of Donald’s goals should be weighed the same. He wants to own a nice house AND he wants to complete his master’s degree (something he always regretted not doing). My argument is that these goals are of a fundamentally different nature and that if you don’t understand the difference you could be setting yourself up for failure.


You can lose this.

This isn’t going to be a long post and I’m sure there is more research I could put into this, but for now I just want to make an important distinction between what I call “temporary goals” and “historical goals.” Either one my be driven by extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Either one may be Donald’s way of gaining pleasure or avoiding pain. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the goals themselves.

The fact is that some things can be taken away from you…somethings can’t. You may want to have lots of money, but you can lose money. Once you achieve “having lots of money” or “owning a Lamborghini” it’s possible that someday in the distant future, you could lose your wealth. Contrast this with something like education. Once you achieve getting a college degree you have it for the rest of your life. Once you climb Kilimanjaro, you will forever be a person “who climbed Kilimanjaro” and no one and no future event can change history.


You can’t ever lose this.

This is often the reason why athletes would rather win championships than break records. In the future, records can be broken…championships live forever (“former record-holder” just doesn’t have the same ring to it). So, when you are mapping out your life plan, don’t neglect the temporary goals…because they are often the most important (physical health, family health, financial health, etc.), but make sure to also include some historical goals as well.

Being able to look back and say, “I did this and no one can take that away,” is a great feeling especially when you feel like you temporary achievements are starting to backslide. In many ways, historical goals are about getting credentials. You might have read all of the books, but without a degree it makes it hard to communicate your value.

Here are some examples of good historical goals:

– Winning a contest

– Getting a degree

– Getting a certificate (not a certification which has to be renewed)

– Running a marathon

– Getting a patent

– Publishing a book

– Winning awards

– Traveling

The Only 2013 Resolution You Should Have – Get Better at Sticking to Commitments

2 Jan

You’ll have to make your resolution several times.

A person’s future success can be predicted by his or her ability to start over. It is the single greatest factor above hard work, having goals, or having the right resources (what Harvard researches came to call “grit”). The ability to start over when things go south (and they will) means that you let go. You let go of the stories about why you can’t do something. You simply made a mistake and you move on….but it also means that you start over with the knowledge that the process is the key. Goals are great and extrinsic motivation can be helpful (but Daniel Pink’s book Drive makes it clear that it rarely is), but we often set out with the false hope that our destinations will be easy to reach or that when we encounter future challenges that we will face them with the same level of energy and motivation that we have right now. The fact is that you are running on a limited resource. Research tells us that your self-discipline can run out and just because you feel a surplus now doesn’t mean you’ll have it in a few weeks (when most people give up). So, if you don’t want to be like everyone else, then play a different game. Don’t focus as much on building up your motivation NOW….you probably already have plenty. I know it feels good to celebrate the DECISION to change your life, but if you don’t actually follow through on that decision then you haven’t done anything. It’s the cycle that keeps everyone trapped (it’s the same when a young person proudly tells you he is “thinking about going to law school”).

Everyone knows that a resolution is a commitment, but what they don’t realize is that it is actually  a series of commitments. You have to make this resolution several times and each time you are beginning the process again. It’s like training your commitment muscles (or more accurately neurological patterns in the brain), which make it easier and easier to follow through as you progress. So no matter what external goal you have right now (get a better job, lose weight, find a partner) in reality the most important goal you can have is “improve my ability to achieve goals.” The way you do that is by making your resolutions and make them several times. It’s easier to start things off with a clean slate. Everyone wants to be perfect. But how will you feel when you’ve stumbled a bit? How will you feel with a few mistakes? You can’t be perfect anymore, so you’ll have to learn to work with what you have. Most people can’t face that reality, so they give up. Sadly completing their self-fulfilling prophecy. Remember that the 1906 Chicago Cubs had the best baseball season in history but still lost about a quarter of their games. If you really want to change your life this year, then commit to getting better with commitments. Lesson #1, 2, and 3…apply selective amnesia…forget your mistakes. Silence the internal voice of resistance and learn to begin again.

What is Your “Goal Orientation?”

17 Dec

When this lady talks, I listen.

When most people talk about “goal orientation” they generally mean “how motivated are you to achieve your goals?” While this question may be fine for most people, I don’t think it helps most people. Reflecting on HOW motivated you are to achieve something may in fact actually lessen your drive (I’ll explain why in a future article). So if you’re going to do some soul-searching, spend your time taking a sober look at WHAT motivates you. This is precisely what psychologist Carol Dweck had in mind when she conducted her research on school children in the late 1970s.

Two 10-year old boys enter separate classrooms. The rooms look exactly like what you’d imagine, typical elementary school classrooms from the late 70’s. Lots of small tables and chairs, lots of student projects, and a general almost overwhelming sense of color. In most ways the rooms are completely identical. The boys are fairly identical too, which is great for Dweck’s research. The tests these boys were given were straightforward. Each boy was given a series of progressively difficult problems. As the difficultly rose, each boy is asked if he would like a more difficult problem or an easier problem. The results of this research show that the two boys had very different reactions to this kind of experiment. The first boy, continued to enjoy the challenge of the difficult problems and remained engaged and confident. This boy was exhibiting what psychologists now call a “learning orientation” or “mastery orientation.” In contrast, the second boy became disinterested and upset as the difficultly of the problems rose; his principal goal was to demonstrate and validate his competence. The second boy has what researchers now call a “performance orientation.”

Since that time, organizational and school psychologists have been doing lots and lots of research to better understand how these two orientations interact and how they may determine an individual’s success in different environments. This chart clearly shows some of the differences:


So, no more descriptions. What does all of this mean for you? Well, first you need to determine which one of these boys seem most similar to you. Do you like to demonstrate you expertise by accumulating achievements or do you prefer to challenge yourself for even if you get in over your head? In general, are you more motivated to master skills or to master others? Understanding where you are is important because it shows you where you may need to grow. In fact, researchers now believe that these orientations, while pronounced and distinct in children, may become complementary in adults. That is, while children may be labeled high in learning orientation OR high in performance orientation, adults may score high on performance orientation AND learning orientation. In this way, you’ll want to build up these motivating forces simultaneously and avoid letting one dominate your life.

Remember, if you want to succeed then you’re going to have to learn your own weaknesses and temptations (see “Manage Your Temptations”). If you’re completely performance oriented then you may avoid important learning situations in which you may appear incompetent. Conversely, if you’re completely learning oriented you may leave many projects unfinished because the novelty of the challenge has worn off. The key is to know yourself and know when you are just making excuses.

You want a real success secret? Understand this principle: achievement without mastery is temporary; mastery without achievement is delusion.