It may be the single most important idea for my whole live! I say this, knowing that I may be looking like an idiot, simply because I am an idiot up to this point.
I'm currently reading two books, one is called "Leading Lean Software Development - Results Are Not the Point" by Mary and Tom Poppendieck and the other is "Do the right thing" by James Parker. These are books about software, management, leadership, organization, customers, ... so you'll probably have to have an interest in those topics to appreciate them. But their ideas are of a more general nature and apply to anybody in my opinion. Now, I'm just into both, having read a chapter here and another couple of chapters there, but the idea is clear from the start. And I'm pretty sure that I'll learn even a lot more in the coming chapters.
So here's what I learnt: Goals are wrong (in that they're not leading).
Huh? That sounds pretty stupid at first, but believe me it makes absolute sense. I should probably say most goals are wrong, but I want to sound provocative. I believe that anybody who has set themselves goals will have experienced that they fail them. They're setting them because they say they would like to achieve that goal. They would like to be there. But in most cases, the big black question mark is still: How to achieve that? How to go there? By setting that goal, remembering it and forcing yourself to commit to it, you're hoping that you find your way through the black mystery of how to do it. Does that sound familiar? Now, the problem is that many people, including me, do have a hard time to maintain the discipline to focus, remember, and commit to one's goals day by day, hour by hour, second by second. The reason is totally simple: It is too much work to do that. In the end one is living an unsatisfactory live, as one is setting goals and not achieving them, because one's not able to follow them through the daily routine.
But why is it too much work!? The impression I got is that it means that achieving your goal requires you to do a lot of things that you normally do not do. And that's just too much work. Let me given an example: I'm not going to get my body in shape when I don't routinely do anything that requires or results in a good body shape. I have to do extra work to achieve that and this extra may be too much.
Here is the point where these book say (more and less directly), that goals are wrong. They're not leading you very well. What leads you to the goal is how you do the work. Let's repeat that! What leads you to the goal is how you do your work! And then it becomes obvious that you must focus on how you do your work instead of what you want to achieve. That this is even a simpler thing to do, because it is present every single second and you can immediately change and work on it. And if you do that, you'll achieve any goal that you're able to achieve. Your goals don't require extra effort, they just require that you put the same energy in that you put in now.
Honestly, I feel like a blind that is able to see. Such a simple idea, and yet, so difficult to see.
It was an eye-opener when Parker said that he doesn't have a goal, he just likes to be extremely good in what he does. Which in the end led him to be the CEO of a big company. Would he be that CEO if he set his goal from the start to be the CEO of that company? Can you see how irrelevant that last question is. Goals just don't matter. It only matters what we do and more important how we do it.