How Can Goals Enhance Creativity?

by Stephen Shapiro

How Can Goals Enhance Creativity?Over the years, I have written numerous articles on “The Performance Paradox” that show how an obsession with the future reduces performance in the present. And typically, creativity is significantly diminished in the process.

But given that businesses are driven by goals, how can we leverage them as a tool for enhancing creativity?

One way is to use stretch targets. REALLY stretch targets.

For example, one client that I was with last week has a target of doubling their business over the next 5 years. I know MANY organizations that have exactly the same goal. That equates to a 14% growth rate each year (assuming compounding). I’m sure, with hard work, they could hit those numbers, even though it would certainly not be easy.

But what if they set a target of growing by 50% a year? It might have a fundamentally different impact on the organization. That level of growth is unprecedented. It will certainly stretch the way they think. A 14% improvement can most likely be attained through conventional thinking. But a 50% growth target would require some breakthrough thinking; radical ideas.

It might also have an interesting psychological impact on the organization.

Because a 14% growth rate is viewed as doable, it might create an attachment in the minds of the executives and employees. “We should be able to hit these targets. Therefore it we don’t, there is something wrong.”

But a 50% growth rate is unheard of. Clearly no one in the organization would be “attached” to that outcome. Surely the executives would not expect employees to deliver on those targets.

As a result, the 50% target becomes a “game” without attachment. Everyone knows it is designed to shift their thinking and to help create enthusiasm.

The future gives them the present, rather than present giving them the future.

As long as everyone in the organization believes they are playing a game which is designed to get them energized today, and it is not specifically about hitting the target, I can assure you that people will be more motivated. Creativity will be stimulated. And even if the company does not hit 50% growth rates, they will certainly have a better chance of hitting the 14% improvement than if they focused on that as the goal.

Goals that are not goals, can enhance creativity.

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Stephen ShapiroStephen Shapiro is the author of three books, a popular innovation speaker, and is the Chief Innovation Evangelist for Innocentive, the leader in Open Innovation.

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  1. Love the ideas on stretch targets and getting everyone involved. I have seen too many companies lose focus and not succeed because the targets gets in the way of creativity and the immediate need to make money! I understand making money but I often tell people – do you own software of companies that no longer exist because they never saw the competition coming. Not settling for how the company is operating is important. Thanks for the ideas here!

  2. If people are interested in a little more on the concept of “goals,” please read my article called “When a goal is not a goal” – https://www.steveshapiro.com/2010/08/01/when-a-goal-is-not-a-goal/

    Thanks.

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