Failure to plan is planning to fail.
Far too many startups fail because they don’t define their mission until its too late. One of my biggest startup mistakes was fleshing out goals with my co-founder more than a year after we had been working together. As ridiculous as this sounds, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has launched a venture without a discreet goal in mind.
I valued connections with people over making money. I still wanted to make money, but it wasn’t what motivated me to launch the endeavor. My co-founder saw an opportunity to disrupt incumbent technologies with huge financial upside if we got it right. It was the classic example of blind men describing an elephant. We were doomed to startup failure because the closer we got to achieving one set of priorities, the further we would be from the other.
When genius fails to plan
Last night I watched Beauty is Embarrassing an amazing documentary about artist, animator, puppeteer and all-around awesome human being Wayne White. If you’ve ever seen Pee Wee’s Playhouse you know his work.
Wayne says his mission is to add humor to the world of fine art. Simple as it sounds, this is no small task. The art world is a stuffy and self-serious domain. Comedy is one of the most difficult things to pull off. Anyone who has ever been to an amateur standup night can tell you this. But equipped with a clear mission Wayne is tearing the art world a new one, and living a fully-realized life. We should all be so lucky.
Wayne says his first memories are watching people react to his drawings as a toddler. Growing up in the deep South Wayne knew he wasn’t destined for small town life. He moved to New York, and then Hollywood, but even as he excelled as an artist, Wayne struggled to define his mission; to make fine art fun.
The voices in his head told him what he wanted was wrong, but no one will tell you to your face. Even if someone had the guts to say it, they don’t have the power to stop you from achieving your destiny because no one is in charge. Those few people (trolls) who have the audacity to publicly doubt you are probably your greatest source of inspiration. You burn with the fire to prove them wrong.
Define success before you start
Goal-setting is one of the most powerful tools in the startup arsenal. In a world of uncertainty the goals you set for yourself are something within your control. Much like setting reasonable expectations, goals are concrete outcomes you hope to achieve, and committing to expectations we set for ourselves that can lay the path for future success.
Why setting goals is so hard
Setting goals is one of the hardest things to do in life. Seriously. We may be working towards something, but if we never define it clearly we can never be wrong.
Failing to fail
This is called failing to fail. It’s a dangerous. Failing to fail is a defense mechanism we use so that we never get our hopes up too high, and we can avoid embarrassment. It’s the opposite of setting goals, because we’ll accept whatever we get as fate.
So much of entrepreneurial success is due to luck. But it’s not blind, dumb luck. As my wise uncle in Nigeria always says, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” If you’re prepared for opportunity, you’ll know what it looks like and what to do with it.
Get lucky with S.M.A.R.T. goals
I recommend setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, which I first encountered after listening Pat Flynn talk about the subject of mind hacks on his podcast. S.M.A.R.T. goals are:
Once you have a framework for success you’ll know when you’re on the right track and when you’re not.
Goals allow you to say “no”
Saying “no” is the ultimate badge of achievement. It’s a hard-earned right, and not a privilege.
Ghandi said, “A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.” And Apple founder Steve Jobs said, “Innovations is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things,” to focus on the few that matter.
If you don’t know, or don’t recognize what you really want, you’ll say “yes” to things that will never deliver your desired outcomes. Having a goal allows you to say no to 1,000 things so you can say yes to the right few.
Goals must be public
My goal here at PR Tips For Startups is to help entrepreneurs change the world. We achieve this by providing innovative marketing strategies from today’s small business leaders. The better we all are at finding the right audience for our message, the sooner they can benefit from what we have to offer. In this way we jointly make a contribution to a better life.
I was a little uncomfortable sharing my goal. Who am I to want such a thing? Every entrepreneur in Silicon Valley wants to change the world. That’s so corny! Why shouldn’t I focus my energy on something else.
No one tells you what they really think except your true friends. You’re lucky if three people in your life are such straight shooters. All the self-doubt comes from me.
Well, what else would that something be? My destiny is mine! No one lives my mistakes.
Goals hold you accountable to an outcome, but it’s you who has to do the work to succeed.
Setting the wrong goals is an avoidable startup mistake
So much of startup life is focused on tactical goals, such as getting outside investment from the right VCs, launching new features, and getting media coverage from the right technology journalists. All of these are worthy pursuits. They should not interfere with your larger goals.
Understand the difference between tactical goals and strategic goals. Think of a tactical goal as the roadmap to your destination. Imagine a cross-country road trip. Tactical goals are the mile markers along the way, such as stopping at the Grand Canyon as you drive from California to New York.
Stretch goals vs milestones
I recently read an amazing LifeHacker piece about scientific ways to crush procrastination. I highly recommend checking it out.
There are many categories of startup mistakes, but overcommitment is one of the most flagrant offenses. As the CEO of a startup you’re aspirations are limitless, but your resources–and especially time–is finite.
In the most basic sense, “dreaming big” isn’t all that bad advice (though dreaming too much can be harmful, more on that later).
But there’s also the problem of setting up grandiose plans and becoming intimidated by your own lofty expectations. Since you don’t want to stop dreaming big, the best way to find a balance is to simply set “macro goals” and “micro quotas.” Your goals should be the large scale things that you hope to accomplish, that much is obvious. But your quotas are what you must get done everyday to make it happen.
Setting a low bar means overachieving every day.
You know there will always be a fire to put out tomorrow, but racking up small wins daily is a great way to build momentum and keep yourself moving forward.
Stretch goals are the opposite of bankable daily quotas. With the wind at your back you should challenge yourself to achieve greatness. You never know where you’ll end up, but visualization of success is of the most important things you can do. Surprise yourself
And in spite of what you’ve read, I still have a lot of work to do setting goals. It’s definitely a growth area. At the beginning of a work day I often write my session goals, but I don’t reconcile the daily, tactical achievements against my long-term mission.
Part of writing about goals and goal-setting is a reminder, and a public declaration of my intent. I’m accountable to you now, but especially to myself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best ways to consistently achieve your goals. You don’t have to be an expert at it–I’m not–but how do you get more done in less time, and keep focused on what’s important? I want to hear from you!
- What are your favorite goal-setting apps?
- What goal hacks work for you?
- Where do you go for inspiration?
- What’s your best productivity hack?
Sound off in the comments section below.
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