DUMB goals: How to achieve success in what really matters most

"Dreams without goals are just dreams that ultimately fuel disappointment." - Denzel Washington

You know what SMART goals are, right? It's a helpful little acronym that breaks your goals into something that's:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

So many people use SMART goals - and for a lot of people that works. But not me. Not for a lot of big dreamers I know. It's too hard to wrap a big dream into the SMART package.

Sometimes, it's a challenge to get clear on the specifics of a goal. Take, for example, my desire to win a Grammy. It's a real dream of mine. But right now, my music doesn't easily fall into a category. It's not really pop music. It's not blues or jazz per se - although if the category still exists in a few years, it could be construed as contemporary pop. And someone recently reminded me that I'm also a speaker, so it's possible that my Grammy might come in the spoken word category - or even the comedy category, since I can be a bit humorous from time to time.

So while I have the desire to win a Grammy, it's not easy to get more specific than that.

Sometimes, big dreams are difficult to measure. In the case of a Grammy, it's not so hard: when I have it, I have it. Until then, I don't. But in the case of wanting to leave a positive impact in the world (or a dent in the universe as Steve Jobs put it). Setting a goal to sell a hundred, a thousand, or even a million copies of my book is measurable and specific, but will that really change lives? I won't know until someone reaches out and tells me that my book made a difference to them.

Then there's that whole "is this really attainable?" thing. Who really knows what's attainable. Some of our greatest inventions came by accident and curiosity. Sir Richard Branson cracked an April Fool's joke about a product that would one day become reality. Now, millions of people own MP3 players of some sort. Nobody believed it was attainable. Now, it's commonplace.

I think of Columbus and the debate over whether the world was flat or round. Sometimes, you don't know if it's attainable until you try. Sometimes you fail, but the attainability of a goal, in my mind, shouldn't be a qualifier on whether or not you give it a try. There are lots of failed attempts that ultimately led to success. Light bulbs, anyone? The original inventor couldn't figure out how to get his filament to burn more than a few seconds. FAILURE!

But Edison and his crew stepped in and worked over and over and over until they found a way to make it work. Voila! Electric light - and ultimately electricity in every home gives me the ability to send this message to you anywhere in the world.

Which ties into the whole realistic thing. Who really thought it was realistic 100 years ago to have little video screens in every home? You can watch moving pictures from the comfort of your living room couch! Back in 1914, We were embroiled in survival struggles. Wars. That kind of thing. It wasn't until 1926 that the first broadcast of moving pictures even happened - and they were crappy compared to today's standards. Heck, we were still watching silent movies until 1927! It wasn't until 1939 that the first experimental broadcast network was set up in the US - and color TV didn't come on the seem until the 50's - but most homes didn't see it until the 60's.

So until about 50 years ago, it was pretty unrealistic to think that you'd be able to watch "talkies" in your living room... with a push of a button.. or downloaded off this thing called the Internet.

So much for "realistic" eh?

Who really knows how long it will take for a big dream to materialize? It took Christopher Plummer most of his life to win an Oscar. The Oscar is one of the highest honors an actor can receive. While I'm sure he wasn't acting for the sake of earning an Oscar (a sure-fire way to NOT win one, I'm told), the look on his face when he held that statuette and said "Where have you been all my life?" only illustrated further that a time-bound goal can be a little limiting. So what if it takes your whole life to achieve a goal? I guess, in that respect, it is time-bound. But would you turn it away, too little too late, if you didn't achieve it until after you died? Remember some of our greatest artists didn't know success in their lifetime, yet their legacy impacts the lives of countless people hundreds of years after their death.

Does "eternity" count as time-bound? 🙂

So when it comes to big dreams, SMART goals leave me cold. There are those that would say that you could still use SMART goals on the smaller sub-set of steps you need to take in order to achieve those big goals, and I agree. It also makes it a lot easier to lose sight of the goal itself and get lost in the minutiae of the every day steps that may or may not ultimately lead you to your goal.

Take the Grammy for example. There are some things I need to do: join the Academy, for example. Those are more tasks then goals, though. I need to have a project -an album, a song, a something that could be submitted for consideration by the Academy. But what? An album of songs? A single song? Design a package for a project (they give Grammys for design, too). Or maybe a video? Hmmm... see how easy it is to get lost in the minutiae?

Lately, I've been working on "DUMB" goals - even a few of my clients and colleagues admit that the DUMB approach is actually very helpful.

Here's how it works. DUMB goals are"

  
D - Doable  
U - Understandable  
M - Meaningful  
B - Believable  
 

Is this something that, with the existing resources and technologies available or known to you, can be done? Television was an extension of ideas that had been developed back in the 1800's. So it was most likely do-able, they just needed access to the resources. Radio waves were already transmitting across the country, so broadcast technology existed, they just needed to figure out how to tweak those waves to send images as well as sound.

Everything they needed was available, just not all in one place. It required some testing, experimenting and putting those pieces together - like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to make the pieces fit together.

So while it seemed unrealistic, it was, in fact, very doable.

"1000 songs in your pocket." Nothing could have been easier to understand when Steve Jobs uttered those words about a device that no one had believed was even possible. Funny enough, MP3 players existed before the Ipod. They were clunky, unsexy, and relegated to the realm of nerds and technophiles. MP3s had been around for quite a while, so it really wasn't a stretch to create a disc drive that would hold them and play them. The technology existed, so it was doable, but how to you explain what these little boxes do in a way that gets you move a million units?

1000 songs in your pocket is a very understandable goal.

There are a lot of folks that think I'm nuts, wanting to go for a Grammy. But it is meaningful to me. There's an aura of prestige around those little gramophone statuettes (Prestige is one of my triggers), it's also a symbol of recognition and acceptance from a field of my peers. Those things are meaningful to me. Maybe not to you, but because they are to me, I'm willing to do the work to achieve the goal.

If you set goals that aren't meaningful to you, why are you setting them at all? (Click to tweet)

To those that say I'm deluding myself into thinking I can win a Grammy, I say you don't have to believe it's possible. Only I do.

Owning dreams that are believable is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make. "I want to make a million dollars" someone will say to me, but when I take them through the threshold of belief exercise, they don't even believe it's possible for them to do so.

How in the world can you bring a dream to fruition if you don't believe it's possible?

So many people believed the world was flat. They fought about it. But someone believed - and a few were willing enough to believe that they loaned some boats and supplies so this Columbus kid could go cavorting to the edge of the world. Worst case scenario, they wouldn't get the boats back and there'd be one less crazy on the planet.

Turns out that willingness is a big piece to allowing space for believability. If you're not sure you can believe in the possibility of your dream, are you at least willing to try to believe it? Are you willing to hold space that someone else might believe in it (and you)? Because I believe in you. If you're reading this right now, I'm cheering for you. I know you've got something special, and if you want it to happen, I want it for you.

So that's how I handle goal setting now. Forget SMART goals, I'm all about DUMB goals. Goals that are do-able, understandable, meaningful and believable to me. Forget what the rest of the world thinks! DUMB goals are a great idea.

There are those that would say it's a negative approach, but I've found it actually plays into a sort of "reverse psychology" - when people criticize your goals, call them dumb or whatever, you can say "Yep. They're DUMB alright. And I'm going to GO for it!"

My clients get it, and since it doesn't force them to reprogram their thoughts, it becomes a more effortless way to own your dreams.

So what say you? This is the first time I've really been transparent about my goal setting process. You may already be familiar with how I prioritize things (using The PEACE System), but this is the first time I've ever shared publicly my DUMB goal setting technique. I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas about it. Please share in the comments below!


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