What is the point of a goal?
Sounds weird doesn’t it. Like a non-sensical question. When we set a goal, surely the goal itself is the point, right?
It’s the thing we want.
The thing we’re striving for.
A goal – we assume – doesn’t have any greater purpose than that. If we get it, great. If we don’t, bad. Simple stuff.
This is certainly how I’ve always thought about goals – both personal and professional – and I’m pretty sure it’s how everyone else thinks about them too.
Well, I should say almost everyone. Because last week I watched a documentary about arguably the greatest goal-setter-and-getter of all time, and it totally changed my perspective.
This, honestly, I think is huge.
The man in question is of course Arnold Schwarzenegger, possibly the only person ever to reach the top in three unconnected fields.
• First, he wanted to become the world’s greatest bodybuilder. He did it.
• Then, to become the biggest movie star in the world. He did it.
• And finally, to achieve the highest American political office possible for someone not born in the country. He did that too.
Safe to say, the guy knows a thing or two about getting stuff done.
So what exactly was so remarkable about his approach to goals? Obviously like most of us he had them, and worked to achieve them, so what’s the difference?
The best way I can summarise it is like this:
For him they weren’t goals, they were games.
Think about this for a second. A game, in some ways, is rather like the opposite of a goal. It’s something where the result, the winning, is pretty arbitrary – and instead it is the playing that counts. You don’t sit down and play Monopoly because you “aspire” to winning a game of Monopoly. No, you do it because you enjoy the process.
For Schwarzenegger, it is clear that he treated his goals in much the same way. Yes, he wanted to achieve them, obviously. But more than that, each subsequent goal turned his life into a giant game, where the object was to figure out how he could get this incredible thing.
Another way to think of this is through the Hollywood concept of the Macguffin – which means an arbitrary plot device (e.g. recovering a stolen jewel) which only really exists to provide a framework for the real purpose of the movie to hang on (e.g. buddy cop bromance).
Schwarzenegger’s goals were Macguffins – they were devices which enabled him to structure an adventurous life.
Now the distinction between this and “normal goals” may seem trivial, but it’s not:
• The point of a normal goal is the goal
• The point of a Schwarzenegger goal is the crazy adventure it’ll take to get it
A normal goal will often have a clear (albeit difficult) path to accomplish it. If you want a promotion, or a bigger house, or an extra couple of clients, you basically know what it will take. You’ve laid out a predictable, plodding path to follow. And if you follow it, you’ve a decent chance of success.
But a Schwarzenegger goal is something that, by definition, you don’t know how to get.
The path is a mystery. The only thing that’s certain is that you’re going to have to do something different to what you’ve been doing so far.
And this means you must experiment.
You must play
You must meet new people.
You must travel to new places.
You must learn new skills.
You must try new things.
You must be brave.
You must be playful.
You must be proactive.
In other words, you must live.
And that, then, is the ultimate point of the goal – beyond even the goal itself. To provide a framework, or a game, which will furnish a fulfilling life.
Serendipitously, I just saw this images which illustrates the point beautifully:
The ability to have a career which is adventure-to-adventure rather that paycheck-to-paycheck is a direct consequence of the goals you set.
Most goals are paycheck-to-paycheck goals.
Schwarzenegger goals are adventure-to-adventure.
Before I wrap this up, don’t make the mistake of thinking this only applies to personal goals. Goals for your business are much the same. If they are sufficiently imaginative and ambitious they will catalyse creative thinking. They will push you to make bold moves. And they will draw a strategy out of you.
If we’re honest a lot of shit strategy comes from the simple fact that it’s sufficient for most brands to achieve what they want. They set conventional goals, with well trodden paths, grind along them, and that’s enough (sometimes).
But iconic status, true disruption, outlandish profits, cultural relevance – these cannot be achieved unstrategically. And they are the business equivalents of Schwarzenegger goals.
Anyway I don’t know about you, but all this has made me have a rethink.
A goal isn’t about the goal.
It’s about the life its pursuit will give you.
Play this game, and even if you never actually get what you’re aiming for, it won’t matter – because you’ll already have the bigger prize.