Fuzzy Goals

Today I was watching a TED talk about “Doodlers unite“. While this is a topic on its own I followed my nose and wanted to learn more about the presenter Sunni Brown. So I stumbled on a slide from her that was titled ‘Fuzzy Goals” (thank you to Sunni for letting me use it here).

Why fuzzy goals?

I was flabbergasted. Why would you need fuzzy goals? Aren’t we well trained to have and pursue smart goals? Be clear about what you want to achieve otherwise you end up somewhere different, is what several mentors told me. So, my belief system got a decent shock. Somebody challenged the status quo for good with a ‘simple’ doodle.

Back to the question, why fuzzy goals? To manage work for consistent, repeatable, and predictable results like in a manufacturing plant we need smart goals. Accountants and Operations managers could not work if that wasn’t so. Lean management approaches are perfecting this thinking to six sigma degree. In product development or any area where innovation is key such goals are well meaning although I can see (and reflecting on experience confirm) that smart approach being flawed. Breakthrough ideas are inherently unpredictable. Knowledge work asks for a different type of goal.

What are fuzzy goals?

Fuzzy goals have an objective although the elements are not yet clearly defined. For example, the ability to be faster than light. Every science fiction author and fan uses the term “FTL drive” as if it a question of time. Until a week ago no scientists would have given it an ounce of credibility since Einstein’s special relativity theory. Now, a goal like that is fuzzy. It is not clear if or when something is faster than light, neither is defined how much, nor if it is feasible in a practical sense, or the impact is might have. You can probably think of fuzzy goals yourself, like when you aimed for your first car. Thinking back, you might agree that over time it became clearer to you what type of car you wanted, what color, how much you could afford and so on.

Elements of fuzzy goals

So, looking at Sunni’s “characteristics of fuzzy goals” again I can understand what fuzzy goals are made of:

Sensory

A goal has to be shared with others and is to be understood. Sometimes you share it only with your inner self and make it clear to yourself what you actually want. The more tangible the goal is the easier. Drawing it might help, telling it as a story, or describing what it would feel having it are all artefacts that make a fuzzy goal clearer.

Progressive

As the story about the first car highlights fuzzy goals getting more substance over time. It is important from time to time to stop and look back. Reflect on what was the original goal, what has been achieved so far, and what has changed. Adjust your goal to it.

Emotional

And finally a fuzzy goal has a strong emotional drive. Unclear goals are only achievable and become tangible if they are compelling. Even a smart goal doesn’t get the necessary attention if it is not loved (do what you love, love what you do!). A fuzzy goal without passion is dead in the water. It needs a strong emotional component.

Reflecting back

Reflecting back to what I wrote about Goal Setting some weeks ago, the “specify” goal had a similar sensory component. Although fuzzy goals go much further than that by adding the emotional aspect. I believe fuzzy goals are longer terms goals and they evolve at their final stages to smart or specify goals.

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