Be more Raleigh, Drake and Columbus – Maybe SMART goals aren’t always smart.

When the great explorers like Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and Christopher Columbus set out on their voyages of discovery, they didn’t limit their opportunity by setting constraints and restrictive boundaries around what they were to do, they simply headed off into the unknown in the belief that they could find lands, people and treasures that we’re unheard of…and the results transformed humankind’s understanding of every corner of Earth.

So when organisations set up project teams to focus on creating something new, be it a product, a service, a process or a structure, why do we find that during the early meetings someone brings up the need to set S.M.A.R.T goals?

Are S.M.A.R.T goals a good companion to creativity?

Just to clarify, I’m not saying that S.M.A.R.T goals aren’t very useful, they are in many situations, but when it comes to creativity, the boundaries that they set could be preventing some big creative spark from blooming.

There is obviously always the need to identify a reason for a project when a business invests time and money, but real creativity needs to not have many other restrictive boundaries that limit the outcome.

Without restricting the boundaries, the people involved can explore many more avenues of a solution and take the time needed to bring it to concept and reality. This could be the difference between a project that delivers minor changes as opposed to one that opens up whole new ways of operating and delivering growth.

So if you look at how real creativity is nurtured and the limitations of S.M.A.R.T goals, here are few points that I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on: to think about:

Specific: As I said earlier, you need a reason for investing in a project, but being required to be too specific on the outcome will limit the potential before the project has even started.

Measureable: I don’t think this is an issue, especially in business projects, but what you measure and compare against could need some explaining to stakeholders.

Achievable: Achievable is a big barrier, because with real creativity you don’t know how far you can go, what you might be able to develop and what the real outcome could be. To me, setting an ‘Achievable’ goal is just a way of limiting yourself because it’s based only on what you know now i.e. “I know we can do this, because we have before” v’s “I’m not sure, because these are very new and unchartered waters, but there could be something amazing over the horizon”.

Realistic: Very much like ‘Achievable’, I think this can set very limiting boundaries that prevent people from really pushing past anything that’s been tried in the past and really creating something new and transformative.

Time constrained: By putting time constraints in place, you’re essentially starting your project by saying “Only do what you can within this timeframe”, which in the project team’s minds translates into “Maybe we should go with what we know and just make it a bit better”. To enable inspiration and creativity to deliver something big, there needs to be room to think, time to try and fail and time to uncover building blocks to something new.

So next time you decide to invest your time and money in real transformation of what you do and what you deliver, be more like the great explorers Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Christopher Columbus – don’t limit yourself by putting restrictive boundaries in your way.