Focus for Success: Fewer Than 169 Goals!

Home » Leadership » Focus for Success: Fewer Than 169 Goals!

By Jerry Cahn

Focus – is the key to success. All achievement motivation coaches tell us that we accomplish what we can focus on and measure success. During our executive coaching, I remind clients that five (5) goals is the upper limit in goals. Easy number to remember: Focus has five letters, and the Lord gave most of us five fingers on each hand, five toes on each foot, and even the main segment of each zipcode is five numbers(J).

Why am I sharing this? Because of an insightful Wall Street Journal article by Dr. Bjorn Lomborg entitled “Trade-offs for Global Do-Gooders” which was written prior to the September United Nations’ meeting to endorse international development goals for the next 15 years. Regardless of your position on the specific goals, it’s clear that his point is correct – how can anyone expect any real success, when people are asked to focus on 169 goals?!

Clearly, there is no shortage of challenges: lack of biodiversity, regional conflicts, killer diseases, threats posed by corruption and gender-based violence, and global climate change. But agreeing to compromise by prioritizing just about everything, is unlikely to produce across-the-board success. “Giving priority to 169 things is the same as giving priority to nothing at all.”

While his subject is the United Nation’s decision-making body, the same rule applies to every organizational body: we need to use a fair system with which to whittle down the number of “priority” goals on which to focus. After considering many systems, he decides that, given the limited resources available, the main one that should be adopted is cost-benefit analysis. For instance, freer trade from completing the World trade Organization’s Doha agreement would return $2000 of extra value for each dollar spent to retrain and compensate displaced workers. It would lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty, giving each person in the developing world an extra $1000 in income each year by 2030. Simply making money transfers to life people out of poverty, with its administrative and institutional challenges, would have a benefit of $5 for each dollar invested.

Doing so, he whittles down the 169 goals to 19, which would produce an average of more than $20 in benefits for each dollar spent – 4 times the ROI that the UN’s original proposal would achieve. This has the result of quadrupling the aid budget

Most of our organizations are not as large and unwieldy as the UN; and 19 goals would still be too many for us. But his point is key: less is more. Especially when resources are limited, if we focus on things that have a significant ROI, the better our chance of achieving ultimate goals. Find the (up to 5) key goals to focus on, monitor activities, measure progress and track success – and you’ll have the ability to follow-up with even more impact!

What’s you experience with having too many goals, and then focusing on a limited target? Share your stories!