Should your goals be public or private?

Posted by in Productivity

I recently read a brief post by leadership blogger Michael Hyatt which got me to think about how goals underpin our productivity. Swiftly summarized, Mr. Hyatt was until recently convinced that openly announcing goals increased their likelyhood of achievement, but after watching a short TEDTalk by Derek Sivers which argues the opposite, he’s rethinking the matter – at least where personal goals are considered.




It’s complicated


Regardless of whether a goal is kept private or announced publicly, the intent of its bearer is always the same: to maximize his or her likelyhood of achieving said goal. That’s where things get complicated – by which I mean individual.


Having worked in a sales organization for several years, it’s evident that motivational factors are inherently more complicated than the simple axis of public vs private – even in an environment where the public announcement of goals is the norm. As much as humans are attracted towards simplicity, we tend to generate complexity.


Some perspectives, however, are better than others for attempting at least a degree of generalization. Personality types such as extroverts vs introverts (public vs private) is one; confidents vs inconfidents is another. Nonetheless, the only way in which to discover ones own preferred method of achieving goals is to experiement with how to encourage progress. You see…


What really matters


Is the matter of progress towards a goal. There are two ways in which to overcome inertia and start moving towards a goal: genuine passion and simple pressure, the latter of which can be positive or negative – think reward and punishment, or bonuses and deadlines if you will.


On an organizational level, external pressure is the preferred method since just about anyone is capable of setting a deadline, which also comes with two other benefits: measurability, and the subsequent production of positively pitiful PowerPoint presentations (apologies for the awful alliteration – it’s an occupational hazard).


Genuine passion is HARD to come by, and doesn’t fit into square boxes. That’s why it’s not widely used in organizations. It can be achieved, but it takes an exceptionally proficient leadership structure to make it happen.


Genuine passion on a personal level, however, is more easily obtained – and if you have it, you already know that you do. It’s the functional equivalent of strapping on a jetpack. Alas, few of us are fortunate enough to hold such a position, and even then there are always mundane or unfulfilling tasks attached to the fun parts.


That is why, regardless of your personality type, your goals should come with a consequence attached; the pressure that helps you overcome inertia. It could be a deadline. It could be a reward – or a punishment. The secret is to keep it simple and make it your own. Fail to do so, and you will – well, fail.


A little humiliation hurts just a little


Failing all else, I’ve seen more than enough cases where pending public humiliation has served as a sufficient motivational factor to reach the finish line. There are better ways to do things, though.