Goals – work systems – getting things done
21 June 2019

Dilbert’s Guide to Getting What You Want

It’s always interesting to read about the processes used by successful people and recently I read How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams. In How to Fail, Adams describes “the strategy he has used since he was a teen to invite failure in, embrace it, then pick its pocket”.

It’s an enjoyable read and one that stimulates reflection. For those of us who are always trying to cram more into the day, one of the interesting points is that systems are more effective than goals.

We all know that if we want to achieve something, we should have a specific and measurable goal. Adams prefers to develop a system. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, but you develop a system – a process of regular, repeated steps - to help you achieve your goal.

What’s the difference? If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it at some point in the future, it’s a goal.

Considering people who use systems as against those who use goals, Adams concludes that in most cases people using systems do better and they are more innovative.

The idea of a system can be very energising. People who adopt systems succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. If you just think in terms of long-term goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.

A systematic process or action is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to your ultimate goal. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction. But if you keep following your system (and it is the right one of course) those smaller steps take you towards your goal.

Those who focus on goals optimise, whereas systems thinkers simplify. Take dieting. Losing twenty pounds is a goal but eating the right things in moderate quantities is a system. If we’re talking about exercise, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system.

To succeed while staying motivated and energised, develop systems that increase your chances of success.

In the workplace this means you should consider the process by which you make decisions and focus more on building a system that evolves and improves. Systems increase the odds of getting the outcome you want.

I have a longstanding wish to speak French fluently and well. That’s my goal, but I’m too busy and tired to spend much time on it, so I take little steps, often. My system is to speak French for an hour once a week and more often if I’m not too exhausted. I practice thinking in French as I walk to work and I try to read easy whodunits. When I’m in France I listen to French radio and I chat to as many French people as I can. It’s tiring, but there’s no doubt that in three years I have been doing it I have come on in leaps and bounds, even though I often feel like “un idiot”.

Set process goals rather than outcome goals. Focus on process to reach the goal, then keep following the process.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2023 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.