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Where we go wrong with our goals


Performance goals or extrinsic motivators, those goals which are measured by a set out put, plague us through most of our lives. Grades, trophies, Facebook likes, retweets, sex… money, all these are things that we at one point are intent of chasing and the general notion has been that the higher we set the bar for these types of goals the better we perform. Therefore, making more money might mean you work harder, getting higher grades might mean you’re much smarter, getting a lot of retweets on your post might mean you’re really popular.

Some of you reading this might already see the flaws in this kind of thinking. It is because of these same extrinsic desires that our world experiences crime, infidelity, fraud, cheating and so on. Intrinsic motivation, drive, has taken a back seat and extrinsic goals have become majority of society’s sole motivator. Doing things for the simple joy of doing them, coding because you like to code, drawing because you like to draw, reading when there’s no exam in sight look like waste of time.

Curious government officials in the USA were trying to see how best to get students to read so they decided to start a cash for books program where students would be paid on the basis of the number of books they read. The result? The children started reading shorter books! And when asked if they could recall what they had read none of them could give a comprehensive account of what they had just read!

The puzzled officials then begun to ponder what would happen if they were to start a cash for grades program. In my opinion, there wouldn’t be a need for this as there’s already an extrinsic incentive that’s corrupted the educations system, grades. There is a difference between getting an A in French and speaking it.

The web has been going through a transformative period in the last few years, providers of measurement solutions realized they sent the web on the wrong path the moment they set the standard of web measurement to be the page view and the click. What followed was the rise of sites like buzzfeed, who perfected the art of generating click bait and suddenly quality professional journalism took a backseat. Misleading headings and “listicles” (100 ways to do ……) have taken center stage on the web. Kenya hasn’t been left behind, with various sites using the same tactics to write stories.

To be fair however, missing extrinsic goals come with their fair amounts of unpleasant consequences, missing grades leads to repeating a class and not making money leads to poverty. But there are several cases whereby our extrinsic motivations lead to chaos down the line. We need to rethink how we set these extrinsic goals so that they don’t become detrimental to our pursuits.

Imagine if you’re a sales person and instead of having immediate quarterly sales targets, your performance was measured by the following: your sales in the next quarter, the number of ideas you come up with and the company’s profit in the next two years. How would you perform then? In ever changing industries like the technology sector, great companies think along these lines because solely keeping your focus on today can lead to bankruptcy tomorrow, just ask Kodak. Today’s home runs don’t win tomorrows games.

Do not however be convinced that I have some sort of prejudice against extrinsic goals, pursuing them can lead to significant achievement in one’s life or business. However I believe that these are changing times and such models of thinking only applied when the world was full of linear paths to achievement (go to school, go to university, get a degree, get a job, get a family, retire and die). The career ladder has turned into the career jungle, in the words of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman:

“Success in a career is no longer a simple ascension on a path of steps. You need to climb sideways and sometimes down; sometimes you need to swing and jump from one branch to another. Sometimes you need to spring from the jungle and establish your own turf somewhere else.”

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To extend the metaphor, the jungle isn’t fixed, trees are cut down and new ones will grow, the jungle is constantly changing.

The joy in goals is in the journey and not the checkpoints.

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