Your Goal: Achieve 65% of the Impossible

Google is taking over.  With an incredibly array of products – from Gmail, Google Earth, and cloud-computing Google Docs to the Google phone, Nexus One, to the new social networking offering Google Buzz, the number of ways in which Google now intersects with and impacts our lives is staggering.  And to think that just a few years ago Google was mostly understood as a search engine for the internet.

So, how did they do it?  How did a company founded less than 12 years ago at Stanford University by a couple of Ph.D. students to help us search the internet better become so intertwined with our lives in so many other ways?  While many reasons abound, including coincidence, I believe the most profound is their organizational culture of ambitious goal-setting.  Dan Dodge works for Google and explains that Google, “sets impossible bodacious goals. . . and then achieves them.”  Which may or may not sound like a great idea.  But here is the lynchpin from Dodge,

“Achieving 65% of the impossible is better than achieving 100% of the ordinary.”

According to Dodge, showing success toward an impossible goal is much more valuable at Google than achieving 100% of something that is safe or pedestrian.  And success at Google is rewarded in significant ways.

For many non-profits, goal-setting is a major issue.  From my experience, I would suggest that 95% of all non-profits set “ordinary” goals and then attempt to achieve 100% of them.  These are safe goals.  The staff feel better about them, management likes to point to the 100% successes during Board meetings, and everyone smiles.  Achieving 100% of safe, ordinary goals may be what we need (psychologically, emotionally, etc.), but it’s not what the world needs.

We work in the non-profit sector for a reason.  The work we do should transform individual lives, our communities, and, indeed, our world.  The world doesn’t get changed by achieving 100% of the safe and ordinary.  It gets changed by setting “impossible bodacious goals” and then achieving them – or at least achieving 65% of them.   Getting closer to the impossible is much more important than achieving the ordinary.

Think about the impact your organization would have over the next 12 years if it adopted this goal-setting philosophy?  We’ve seen what it’s done for Google.


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