Thinking like a kindergartener can help you accomplish more goals

The following post was originally written for the PMI Michiana January 2022 newsletter.

When we’re kids, we tend to draw colorful, imaginative pictures to show our ambitions. Add a cape and you’re a superhero. Sketch long legs and all of a sudden you’re 8 feet tall. With crayons and a little imagination, you can have polka dots all over your body, seven legs, a pet crocodile, or just about anything you can imagine. Proudly, we displayed our artwork on the refrigerator or cover our doors and walls to show off our work.

Fast forward to now, as adults. Our ambitions are organized in project boards and spreadsheets, hidden in files and folders on our computers. They’re much more subdued and based on whatever data we can pull to support them. We use systems, like setting SMART goals, to get stuff done. Quite frankly, our goals tend to get a lot more boring as we age, especially in a business setting. Neither of these systems seem to work at accomplishing all of our goals, but one is a much better system, and it’s probably not what you think.

A few years ago, I had a realization about the systems I mentioned above and how they help or hinder our goals. I knew there had to be a method better than SMART to accomplish objectives, and that’s where I came across a system that matched the “think like a kindergartener” approach that I suspected would get better results: the FAST system. The FAST system was created by Donald Sull, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and Charles Sull, a partner at Charles Thames Strategy Partners.

FAST is defined as Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific, and Transparent. When you think about how kids share their ambitions, it tends to be closer to this instead of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. In fact, the SMART system ignores ambitious goals altogether, opting instead for safe goals – and they still fail to happen. The FAST approach, on the other hand, focuses on putting your goals front and center, making them visible and talked about and most of all, enthusiastically aspirational.

Frequently Discussed

With Project Management software, it’s easy to share ongoing tasks and the work that is being done. We can keep our goals front-of-mind — but only if we incorporate more discussion, feedback, and positive communication. The goals themselves should be talked about frequently rather than separating the tasks fully from the reason for the work. Think about an over-eager 5 year old with a new drawing. They want to share it with anyone who will listen. Many systems now focus solely on the work that’s done to accomplish the goal rather than celebrating the goal that the work aims to accomplish. It’s easy to forget why we’re doing the task work when you lose sight of the big picture.

Ambitious

In business, goals and tasks tend to be fairly mundane. We’re no longer little kids imagining themselves as astronauts, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t aim for the stars a bit more in our goal setting activities. Companies, however, tend to dissuade moon-shooting in lieu of safer, more structured and trackable goals. It would serve them better to allow more high-reaching goals in order to support teams completing the work. Teams thrive on excitement and comradery, and if the goal is frequently discussed and ambitious, you can build momentum to accomplish the work required. Your teams might surprise you with the amount of effort they put toward ambitious goals and projects.

Specific

Just like in SMART goal setting, specificity is crucial. You can’t do your best work without clarity and some level of metrics or milestones to mark your progress. It’s also hard to sustain the electrifying energy of a new goal without having a clear understanding of the objectives and tasks to complete it. With specific goals, you want to document both quantitative and qualitative data in order to have better results. When a young child has a goal drawn out, they’re very specific: I want to become a superhero that has four arms and shoots laser beams from my eyes and can jump over buildings THIS TALL (imagine them holding their arms as outstretched as possible). For business, this translates more to we can increase target objective a set percentage by implementing X, Y, and Z.

Transparent

Transparency is one of the most exciting parts of goal setting. Instead of burying completed tasks and milestones in graphs and charts on Dropbox, make them visible. Make them stand out, make them colorful, make them obvious. By doing this, you can support and celebrate with your team and hold them more accountable. There are reasons children post their ideas on the refrigerator – they want them to be seen. Teams that operate like this garner more support and stay on task within the strategy better.

By implementing more FAST goals into your project management and business systems, you can improve how well you accomplish your company’s objectives, improving team communication and making everyone have a clearer view of the reason for doing the work. Grab some markers and make your ideas bigger. Show off those goals and tasks. Talk about them and work together to make them happen. It sounds a little silly, but thinking like a kindergartener can help you accomplish more goals.

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Innovation consultant Nicole Royer has worked on over 300 startup projects and launches over the past 16 years. She enjoys helping companies identify areas of improvement. creating better strategic approaches, and helping clients to organize their teams to achieve better growth and goal achievement. In 2022, her goals include growing her consulting business and mastermind groups to 100 participants, writing at least 1200 words every day, and booking 3 speaking engagements. Find more about her at www.meetnicoleroyer.com and connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/nicoleroyer.

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