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  • Writer's pictureEmily

STUPID Goals

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

I don’t like SMART goals. Perhaps that makes me hopelessly ineffective, but hear me out. I firmly believe that there are situations in which SMART goals are, well, smart. But I find myself repeatedly in situations where they just don’t fit.


As a game designer, I’m working on creative and iterative projects. I don’t quite know what the end state looks like or what it will take to get there. This makes it hard to get specific and measurable, much less achievable and time-bound. I also need to encourage myself to take risks and be comfortable with failure early and often. I need expansive and unencumbered thinking. SMART goals, to me, can feel like a box that narrows my thinking and discourages risk-taking.


Sound familiar? I would expect that it does because game design is not the only problem space with these characteristics. I’ve seen this tension in many technical endeavors in which one is inventing something new and where the path to success isn’t yet known. Invention and innovation just can’t always fit into the well-described box that SMART goals strive to be.


So what to do? We could just forget goals altogether but that feels entirely unfocused. There’s power in giving ourselves a target to achieve, that’s why goals are so popular. There must be a better approach though. I was chatting with Jason Slingerland on a recent episode of the Building the Game podcast about this very topic and he suggested that we needed a different framework: that we needed STUPID goals.


While a funny joke in the moment, it resonated within the Building the Game community and got us thinking: what would STUPID goals look like? So in a creative and iterative discussion, we’ve created a new framework for goal setting in creative and iterative endeavors. This is entirely crowd-sourced from a group of game designers and players, all of whom have day jobs in various professional domains. We are not researchers, merely practitioners seeking to share our collective insight from years of experience. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce STUPID Goals.


Let’s take a quick walk through each item.


Small

Lots of people like to set big or long-term goals: if that works for you, awesome! But I find it hard to see progress when the scale is too big. Big goals also force me to describe the desired end state when it may be too early to know what that looks like. I find it hard to remember to let myself evolve that end-state vision when I’ve got a big goal. Small goals let me iterate, racking up a lot of small wins on the path to achieving a larger vision. Small goals also give me time to learn from what I just did and use that knowledge to plan my next small goal. Small goals are the bedrock of iteration and iteration is a fundamental part of creative endeavors.


Temporary

I have spent far too long over the course of my career worrying about setting the perfect goal. This might be (or at least feel) important when there is performance or pay implications tied to my goals. But in the world of fast, iterative, creative projects, it’s perhaps worth not sweating the small stuff. What I need is a structure that helps me achieve my goal. What I don’t need is a perfectly crafted goal. A rough draft can quickly set my path so that I can move on to the fun and challenging task of actually achieving the goal. So when initially creating your goal, consider them as temporary: you can always come back to edit and revise.


Uncertain

When I’m doing creative things, I don’t always know what the end goal looks like. If I’m really pushing to do something new, I might not even know whether it’s possible. And that’s good! The act of creation is inherently uncertain and maybe even uncomfortable. Let’s embrace that uncertainty and take on goals that might be impossible. The act of trying will likely take us further than we expected.


Purposeful

It may seem like we’ve dismissed having a big, overarching vision. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Having a north star purpose should drive your goals. If a goal doesn’t help me move toward my north star, why should I do it? So we propose that goals should be purposeful: directionally aligned with your larger vision. If I don’t know the “why” behind my goal or I do but it’s not moving towards that larger vision, it may not be the right goal for me right now. Keeping goals purposeful allows me to be moving generally forward AND in the right direction.


Interesting

If my goals aren’t interesting, I make very slow progress (if any) on them. And I’ve definitely abandoned projects that were no longer interesting to me. I’m not saying that I enjoy every task that I take on, but there’s got to be something that drives me to complete it. I sometimes have to work hard to find the part that’s interesting, reminding myself that I’m learning something useful or something else that catches my interest. This is perhaps a carrot vs stick moment. You can try to discipline yourself into working on your goal, but it is worth looking around for the carrot to keep you motivated.


Disposable

If my goal isn’t working for me, I need to give myself permission to throw it out. Goals are tools to help a project move forward but they’re not sacred oaths. And as with any project, using the wrong tool will slow likely slow me down. If goals are just tools, then goals are no different. I find that letting go of a goal that no longer fits is both a relief and creates an opportunity to refocus on the right goal.


Thanks for reading all the way through! We want to encourage folks to hold their goals lightly, using goals as tools to move forward nimbly without getting boxed in. Let us know what you think! What type of goals fit best in your design process?


And check out the Building the Game episode where we unveiled STUPID goals!


Authors of the STUPID Goals framework:

Xoe Allred

Chris Michaud

Heather Newton

Jack Rosetree

Rosco Schock

Jason Slingerland

Emily Vincent

Michael Wostbrock





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2 Kommentare


Jeff Johnston
Jeff Johnston
22. Sept. 2023

Love this framework!

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Ashwin Kamath
Ashwin Kamath
28. Juni 2023

This is so stupid...


:)

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