Case Study: It’s A Goal, Not a Wet Noodle

by Brad Isaac on January 11, 2007

I was reviewing some goals with a reader named Teresa today when it became painfully obvious she had missed a key element of setting goals — detail. It is a common mistake and if left unchecked will cause frustration, inefficiency and in the worst case, failure in realizing the goals at all.
The list went like this:

1. To be more competent
2. To get a promotion
3. Increase my self confidence.

….and so on.

The main problem: Her goals were vague and unmeasurable.

I’ll discuss one of the goals in this post and how we fixed it. To start, I asked a series of questions.

1. What does it mean to be more competent?

2. How will you know you have achieved this goal?

3. What is the deadline you’d like to have competence – whatever that might mean?

She thought for a moment and came back with. “What I really want is to be more competent with my computer this year.”

We were getting closer, but still far away from a solid goal. “OK, a computer is a complex machine. If you were wanting to be more competent with only one part of it what would it be?”

This conversation went on for some time where we went back and forth honing what she wanted to do. Eventually, it came to light she wanted to be able to set up a web site where she could post family pictures where her family could tune in share and download them.

Using some honing on that we eventually came up with the goal to: Read and work through one book on Mastering FrontPage.

A few of you might be scratching your heads. How do you go from “being more competent” to “being more competent on the computer” to “Reading one book on Frontpage?”

I’m glad you asked. You see, if there is one hurdle to get her competent enough with the computer to put up a web page and upload pictures, then it’s education and experience in HTML and web hosting. The quickest route is not general competence. It’s not computer competence. It’s actually competence in the area of simple web development.

Notice that we added the clause “work through”? This is more powerful than simple reading. Working with the concepts and tools give you the skills to gain competence in a chosen area. As she learns how to create tables, she’ll be able to format her site. When she works the exercise on adding a picture to the page, she’ll know how to upload pictures and have them show on the site, and so on.

So ultimately, reading and working through one good book on Frontpage editing should take her all the way to the finish line. It’s a clear goal, it’s measurable and quite frankly so darn simple a child could do it.

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January 11, 2007 at 11:43 pm

It doesn’t matter for the point of your story – but FrontPage is now obsolete. See (That might indeed matter to Teresa.)

Brad Isaac January 12, 2007 at 11:06 am


Thanks, I didn’t realize they were phasing it out. I’ll let her know as well.

January 12, 2007 at 6:34 pm


What a great post about drilling down to find the core issues that need to be addressed. Very often people look at a “surface” desire and think that it is the end all, be all of what they want to do, when it all actuality that surface desire is sometimes just the beginning.

This technique also works when deciding what someone is passionate about for a career. Usually a surface desire for any given type of work is actually the hallmark of a more large-scale goal that a person wants to accomplish.

Good stuff, thanks for posting.

- Aaron

cloudrider January 14, 2007 at 5:04 am

Brad, great post.

I generally think of goals as projects – i.e. create a family website – and the plan to achieve this would be to break down the necessary tasks – one of them being “read a book on a web publishing software”. The tasks have to be very specific with a deadline. What do you think?

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