In the academic literature there is a debate about the importance of goals. Lock and Latham have argued that the research into the importance of goals in performance is amongst the most researched and replicable findings in the whole management literature. However, Demming and many of his followers in the quality literature have railed against goals and see them as an impediment to continuous improvement.

So what is new? Well on the Today programme there was an interesting interview with Barry Cowan who was at the US Open in New York. He was the guy who came from nowhere in 2001, won his first round in Wimbledon and then took Pete Sampras to five sets. He posed some interesting questions.

  • How important are goals to you?
  • In sport, how does failure compare to real life experiences? Here he compared playing tennis in Andy Murray’s life with his childhood experience of living in Dunblane or one of yesterdays winners in the ladies singles competition compared with her father being buried alive on rubble before being rescued in the Honduras earthquake
  • If goals are so important, does that create fear of failure? And does that fear lead to failure?

Barry also said he played his best tennis when he enjoyed what he was doing. He just wanted to feel he had given his all and, win or lose, he had played the best he could in the game.

Which is all very much like the argument in the academic literature. Goals can be good, but they have consequences too.

Mike Bourne

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