Got a Goal?

To achieve something in life, we might define our goals explicitly and highly, commit ourselves to them, and check our progress.

Kevin Sharpe

Science & Spirit 1998

In 1921, Lewis Terman launched a study of 1,528 children with IQs in the top one percent. In 1960, he and Melita Oden compared completed studies of the 100 most successful of the male subjects with the 100 least successful, designated the A group and the C group respectively. "Success" meant work and achievement and social status. The results showed:

Only eight As had died at this point compared with sixteen Cs.

The As were physically more active, favoring participation in sports, for instance, rather than observing passively.

Their home backgrounds differed by degree. Most of the As grew up in more advantaged and professional families. Their fathers and their paternal grandfathers received more education. Their home libraries were larger, they were encouraged into active hobbies, and, by 1940, fewer of their parents had divorced or died. The As' family backgrounds fostered more ambition, independence, initiative, and excellence. Teachers and parents rated the As as better adjusted than the Cs. The cause of their different levels of success, then, lay in attitude rather than intelligence.

Another study looked at what distinguished preeminent artists, scholars, and athletes. It found that all the subjects excelled in their daily discipline but didn't stand out in their inborn gifts. These superstar performers were exceptionally motivated and devoted hours each day to their goals.

Effective goal setting requires feedback: someone must track the performance against the goals and communicate the results to us. To set goals without reports on progress hardly affects the our long-term performance. To report on progress without goals hardly affects performance either; we fail to see the significance of feedback without some standard or goal to measure it against.

Designated goals draw from us the same degree of commitment and performance as goals we help decide or goals we choose ourselves. Designated goals results draw from us a poorer performance only when they confuse us or they turn up with short and blunt directions and no explanation.

We similarly feel satisfied with the job when it produces what we value or want. We then feel greater self-satisfaction, success, and pride too. The more we find the value fulfilled and the more important we rank the value, the more satisfied we feel. We feel dissatisfied when the job undermines or fails to yield what we want. We also feel more satisfaction if we credit ourselves for success (which we typically do) rather than attribute it to outside forces like chance, or if we blame others for failure (which we typically do as well).

Our leaders, if they want us to perform highly, should set explicit and high goals with us, gain our commitment, and supply feedback to us on our work once started. We should do likewise for ourselves.

To achieve something in life, we might define our goals explicitly and highly, commit ourselves to them, and check our progress.

Copyright 1998 by Kevin Sharpe.