Goals v. Systems


This article struck a chord in me, if a slightly negative one.

I’m an insane planner, To Do list maker, and end-of-year Goal Setting Workshop kind of a guy. The idea of giving up all of that for just a daily process sounded a little too unfocused and against everything I believed.

Then again, I’m also a huge fan of systems theory (if you haven’t yet read Thinking in Systems: A Primer, please do. It’ll open up a whole world of how your marriage, your teams, and the government works. Or doesn’t). So, I suspect James Clear is on to something.

Clear wants us to stop setting any goals, just create processes that we follow every day.

But can you have one without the other?

Sure, I can create a daily workout and practice routine for getting better at golf, but can I just forget about getting the ball in the hole?

Even basketball teams, the complex system the author refers to in his article, have a goal: To get more basket balls in the hoop than the other team. Even his goal of writing a book, only achieved by following his process, is a goal. I’m guessing if he just wrote randomly in his blog, if they were assembled into a book, it would have much coherence or flow.

When it gets down to it, it’s ultimately the old strategy/execution split. For me, it’s 5%/95%. A little bit of strategy (goals) and lot of execution (process).

You need both.

But, I guess that’s why I’m a project manager.  I like the day to day effort of being efficient, making commitments, and getting stuff done.  But all in the service of a defined goal.

I frequently ask my teams, “What’s your mission for this sprint?” or “How will this product improve our customer’s lives?” If they don’t know, they are just doing busy work (i.e., following process with no goal).

I like where Clear is going with this article, but he goes just a bit too far.