March 22, 2009

Careful with that goal!

Several authors have accentuated the importance of well formed goals in solution-focused practice (for instance De Shazer, 1991; DeJong & Berg, 2008). So given my special interest in goals (and my belief that it is often wise to challenge what I think I know) I was interested to come across this blog post at The situationist: The downside of goal setting. One article mentioned in that post drew my attention in particular: Goals Gone Wild. The authors of this article acknowledge that goals can produce positive results but say that the challenging character of goals can also cause them to 'go wild': 1) When goals are too specific, 2) When goals are too narrow, 3) When there are too many goals, 4) When an inappropriate time horizon is used, and 5) When goals are too challenging. Goals gone wild can lead to: 1) excessive risk taking, 2) unethical behavior, 3) negative psychological consequences in the case of goal failure, 4) inhibited learning and cooperation, 5) a culture of competition, and 6) harmed motivation. The authors call for a use of goals with careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision.
As always, comments about how any of this maybe useful (and other comments) are welcome.


  1. I agree: goal-setting can have significant side effects. All those you listed.
    At the same time, I feel that a sense of direction is needed.
    As an italian proverb goes, there is no good wind for the sailor if he does not know where he wants to go.
    That is why I like the concept of "preferred future" (Peter Szabo).
    It is not a specific goal, but just... a preference out of the many possible outcomes.
    BTW, thanks for linking the article.

  2. Hi Paolo, I like 'preferred future' too. I think Steve and Insoo used that phrase too, didn't they? I also often use the phrase 'desired situation' or simply 'how you would like things to become', or 'how you would like your situation to become'. That sense of direction is key. Without it, you won't know whether things are moving in the right direction.
    All the best,

    PS do you Twitter?

  3. No, I do not.
    I am on twitter, though: I was curious about how it worked. And I am following a few people on twitter.
    I agree with what Mark is saying, it is a different kind of posting.
    Right now, I am not in the mood to start twittering.
    Last Monday somebody faked my identity and posted an ad with my cell phone number; that caused me quite a few problems and the police is now looking into it. I hope they get somewhere.
    Anyway, after that I am not in any mood for sharing what I am up to...

  4. PS: yes, of course Insoo and Steve used "preferred future" too...

  5. brr.. identity theft is a terrible thing to do


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