“So… What makes D.A.M.N. goals better than S.M.A.R.T. goals?”
This is usually the second question people ask when they hear about my damn goal course, the first question usually being a chuckle followed by “What’s that?”
I have an answer, but first, a caveat: The best system for goal-setting is the one you use consistently. If you’re already using smart goals and you’re happy with your results, damn goals might not be better.
I’m familiar with smart goals and used them myself in the past. I even taught them to clients back in the early days. They can work well.
That said, there are a number of things which I found frustrating about the “smart” framework, and which ultimately led to the creation of the damn goal methodology.
Too Many Cooks
To begin with, there is no common definition for what each letter of S.M.A.R.T. actually stands for. When the framework was first introduced in a Management Review article in 1981, the letters of smart stood for goals that were specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-based.
In the years since, many have championed the idea, making it their own and adjusting it to suit their view of what makes a quality goal. As a result, there are now dozens of variations of the smart framework, each with very different meanings.
For example, I have seen the S stand for both specific, and simple, the M for measurable, and meaningful, and I would be willing to bet that 99% of the people reading this have never heard of the original “assignable” meaning behind smart’s A.
This can make collaboration a nightmare. If my idea of a good goal is one that’s specific, motivating, audacious, relevant, and time-based and yours is simple, maintainable, achievable, realistic, and trackable, we’re not likely to be prioritizing the same things.
The most common current interpretation of smart goals is that they should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.
Engineers are probably rolling their eyes with me right now.
Excuse me, but what is the difference between something that is specific and something that is measurable? If we can measure it, is that specific enough? Do we really need both reminders?
And what about achievable, and realistic? If something is achievable, doesn’t that also mean it’s literally realistic?
As a developer, I was trained to relentlessly trim the fat in systems.
Like George Carlin going to work on the ten commandments, I saw lots of waste in the smart framework and it irked me. Surely we could do better.
Aside from the redundancy, I found the terms achievable and realistic particularly problematic, especially when working with people who were new to goal setting.
Simply put, people tend to confuse the word realistic with small. In case after case, I watched as clients and teams talked their goals down in order to make them feel more realistic. On the surface, this makes sense. Smaller goals feel like a safe bet because they seem easy to achieve.
The problem with small goals is that they are also:
Less inspiring – and therefore less likely to garner outside support, or spur massive, meaningful action.
More common – and therefor open to more competition.
It seems counter-intuitive, but bigger goals are often actually easier to get off the ground just because they capture people’s imaginations and no one else is attempting them.
If people could continue to think big while remaining realistic, it wouldn’t be an issue. But that doesn’t seem to be in our nature.
Speaking of Human Nature
People who ascribe to Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet™ regularly achieve outstanding results, many of which were previously thought impossible within the fitness industry.
One of the primary reasons is that the diet has extremely high adherence rates. People stick to it. As I mentioned in the beginning, the most important factor in achieving any goal is sticking to a system that works. The problem with many other diets is not that they’re wrong. More often, they’re just very difficult to stick to.
The Slow Carb Diet works with human nature — focusing on small changes, avoiding complex tracking, and allowing for regular binge-eating — rather than relying on developing multiple new habits and exercising will-power.
While it’s admirable to want to be disciplined, strong-willed, logical creatures, there’s an overwhelming abundance of evidence that says we’re just not. We can either struggle against this, or we can accept it and use it to our advantage.
The damn goal framework opts for the latter.
It’s just fun to talk about. The damn goal framework is the only system I know of which allows you to swear at your boss, at your client, or at your children while appearing to share actual helpful information.
“What’s your damn goal?” “That’s not a damn goal!” “Stick to the damn plan!”
Joking aside, it’s memorable. If you lead a team, one of the most important habits you can develop in your direct reports is that of regularly talking about goals.
One way to do that is to inject a dose of humor, and that’s exactly what the damn framework does.
So, is it better than smart goals? I certainly think so… But ultimately, I leave that judgement to the damn students, and to your own damn experience.