The Power of Shared Goals

This blog was originally posted in the December 2014 issue of Time Management magazine.

There is great power in setting goals for oneself, of course, but this doesn’t mean that a personal goal should remain personal. One of the best ways of getting something done is in fact by sharing; not delegating the work necessarily, but by sharing the vision; because vision shared is often vision squared. The more people who hear about an idea, who discuss it and debate it, the better the end result will be.

This mutual discussion opportunity is sometimes referred to as synergy: an energy that aligns with other people’s, and expands creativity and motion beyond what any one person can do. A goal, after all, is an end point, a milestone at which an achievement is recognized. The path towards that endpoint usually has many steps and challenges along the way.

One of the best ways to ensure a goal is achieved is to brainstorm the heck out of it; to take a group of people into a room with a dry-erase board and some markers and ask them to go at it: to find the problems, to think up alternatives, to draw connections and to construct what-if scenarios. As Michael Dell once said, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room.”

Examples of shared goals are everywhere. In 2014, Elon Musk, creator of the Tesla electric car, famously opened up its designs and patents to anyone who could do better. This was not an exercise in pure altruism of course, since an expansion of the electric car market would benefit Tesla’s goals of selling more cars across the U.S. and the world. Similarly, the website highlights the benefits of opening up a problem to the world with the goal of solving it sooner and more efficiently. Innocentive offers financial rewards to people who can solve specific problems, mostly in engineering and science. The people invited to solve these problems are outsiders – they don’t work for the company – but they have experience and ideas, and their contributions have helped major manufacturers develop and market new, improved products in all markets – including consumer goods and industrial.

The sharing of goal information then, is a time-efficient strategy, since no-one is truly an island. People have worked for the last few decades in a highly siloed existence, communicating by email and by meeting, with very little opportunity for full feedback and discussion. Goals, whether they be personal and career-related, or project-oriented, seldom get to blossom in a time-constrained workplace rife with distractions.

There are, however, new opportunities for the sharing of goal information with the advent of the collaborative work environment that is now making its mark on businesses across the country. Collaboration and conversation provide far greater opportunity for the cross-pollenization of ideas as open-concept “online conversation areas” start to replace email as a method for real-time interaction and synergy to happen.

Some companies have taken this concept even further by using the data extrapolated from social media to bridge gaps between people, using an internal Facebook-style of social interaction to encourage both discussion and the discovery of hidden talents within them. The matching of aptitudes and attitudes revealed by social media-styled interactions hold greater promise, many feel, than more traditional assessment tools such as Myers-Briggs, when it comes to matching employees to a company’s goals.

The bottom line, then, becomes a statement of individuality versus group effort. Goals are good to have. People need to identify them and make them tangible. But a goal without input from others will offer little in terms of traction and momentum. To work, they need to be shared.