The power of not wanting. How goals can damage effectiveness.

I had two conversations yesterday, first with Dimitri in Starbucks then later with my friend Al (his blog on improving web conversion) on the telephone where we spoke about how goals can actually damage effectiveness.

  • Wanting too much = desperation = we push people away.
  • Not wanting at all = we say no = people want us more.

An example of wanting too much…

I have always been “an entrepreneur who teaches”. In the past I have always said no to any teaching that doesn’t work for me – and to any changes to my course that I am not fully happy with. This year, entrepreneurial activity a little low – I decide to focus more on teaching.

In redefining my role as primarily “a teacher who is also an entrepreneur”, my ego gets involved in the teaching.  It is now important to me that the course goes ahead and that I get to teach.  I say yes to changes in the course for MBAs. I go ahead with course even though it was moved to another term, reduced in length and the extensive practical sessions with collaborator were cancelled.  The result: the course was poor – for myself (overwhelmed) and for students (missed structure and practice sessions).

An example of the power of not wanting…

Blake’s book

My younger brother arrived in Australia 3 years ago. He joined a gym. A friend told him “you must get Blake as your personal trainer”. My brother approached Blake and asked “would you be my trainer?”. Blake said “No.” A couple of weeks later, the friend said “so, are you working with Blake” “No”. “Why not? You must work with Blake. Go and ask him again.”

My brother returned and asked Blake “I would really like to train with you. Could we just do one session?” Blake responded “look, I only work with the best. I don’t believe that you are committed enough.”

A moment later Blake said “look I have a free slot next week. It is 5am on Tuesday morning. One minute late and I’ll know you’re not committed.” For 3 years, my brother was at the gym at 4:45 Tuesday and Thursday mornings.  He has run several traithlons since starting training with Blake.

Tony Nadal, coach to Rafa, has never received a salary from Rafael. When asked why he said “I am his coach. I need to be able to tell him difficult things. This would be compromised if I depended on him for my pay”.  (IESE Business School has an interesting case: Rafa Nadal: The Champion and the Person).

So here I am with a dilemma: I don’t believe you achieve anything of importance without setting goals, but publicly stated goals can drive “desperation” behaviour – saying yes to clients that you shouldn’t accept, to work that you shouldn’t be doing, to changes that you would not allow if you were not desperate to show progress.  What is to be done?

One response to “The power of not wanting. How goals can damage effectiveness.”

  1. Hi Conor, nice piece of reflection.
    I just would add that it is important to set goals ( we have to north and the north is there) but you have to flexible enough to adapt to changes and circumstances ( maybe, you couldn’t go north all the time but you went northeast or northwest) always with the goal in mind.

    Thank you for the blog.


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