The Battle over Goals and Objectives


There’s a war in the world of goal-setting gurus.  One thought leader will urge you that SMART goals are brilliant and that DUMB goals with their lack of focus are a threat to civilization.  Then the author of your next search result will retaliate saying that ruthless precision of SMART goals is soul-destroying, while DUMB goals allow for creative exploration and fulfillment.

Just like a civilian on the battlefield, you are dazed by all the bombast hurled about you.  You just want an answer.  Should use the SMART or the DUMB format in setting objectives?


It’s my belief that you absolutely must bring these two warring sides together in order to achieve long-term personal and professional success. Let’s get you started on that path right now.

Long-Term, Strategic Goals and the DUMB Criteria


Once you’ve built your Mission & Vision, and feel like you have a reasonable inventory of your personality and personal assets, you can start to let those things guide you where you want to go in life. These larger long-term goals are sometimes referred to a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).  However, I prefer to use the acronym DUMB, because it contrasts so neatly with SMART objectives, which we’ll discuss later.

By now, it should be clear that when we refer to DUMB goals, we’re not talking about stupid goals or those reflecting bad decisions you hope to make in life. Rather, DUMB goals lend themselves to a large-scale personal plan. These are long-term targets that will be very closely aligned with your Mission & Vision. The acronym refers to the following motivators for setting them:

  • Dream-driven
  • Uplifting
  • Method-friendly
  • Behavior-driven

To identify DUMB criteria, we again start by asking critical questions. They might include:

  • What objectives fit with what I know about myself?
  • What would massively, yet appropriately, challenge me?
  • Which goals would push me outside my comfort zone?
  • How can I build a habit that will push me toward reaching this end?

At this point, it is easy to see how your Mission & Vision drive the creation of your DUMB criteria. Remember, DUMB goals are personal. They relate to who and how you want to be in this world. And, importantly, they can be anything.

Examples of Dumb GoalsClimbing-Kilimanjaro-Summit

Maybe one of your ambitions is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro before you turn 40. Let’s walk through the above questions to determine if this is a good intention for your life:

  • Does this enormous physical endeavor fit with what you know about yourself? Do you crave nature, physical challenges, and adventure? If so, you’re on track.
  • A climb like this would almost certainly be a massive challenge for anyone – but is it an appropriate challenge for you? If you’ve never been one for hiking, climbing, or any sort of regular physical exertion, this might not be an appropriate goal.
  • Would it push you outside your comfort zone? It’s safe to say that if you’re not a professional mountain climber, the answer to this one is almost certainly yes.
  • The habits that would push you toward this goal might be things like daily aerobic training, yearly climbs of smaller mountains, or even regular weight lifting exercises. Are those habits you would like to foster?

Forcing this level of introspection about your DUMB goals will help you shape a personal trajectory that could lead to a rich and fulfilling life. And, using AccompliTrack will help you continually analyze the habits and tactics you’re pursuing to ultimately reach those dreams.


Many professionals already have some familiarity with the concept of SMART goals. The phrase was first coined by George T. Doran in 1981. Since then, it has been adopted into the performance management systems used by most U.S.-based and international companies. SMART goals are best suited for your tactical ambitions at work.

Those of you who really dug deep to build your Mission & Vision and DUMB goals will be pleased to hear that SMART goals are easier to understand and have objective standards for completion. They are often tied to financial incentives and promotions. As such, they tend to be near-and-mid-term plans that align with your employer’s goals as much as your own.

Business-Team-SMART-Goals-TargetThe SMART acronym succinctly defines the characteristics of such goals. They must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable/Attainable/Agreed-upon
  • Realistic/Results-focused/Relevant
  • Timebound

Ideally, you will have a relationship with your supervisor that allows you to share these goals and to be proactive about meeting them. For example, perhaps you are currently in an administrative role but desire to become a project manager. By sharing that SMART goal with your supervisor, he/she might be more amenable when you ask to lead your first project. Success with that project could lead to management of larger projects. Once you achieve enough of these successful steps, you can make a persuasive argument that you should be a full-time project manager.

When Opportunity Knocks

Clearly, we believe goals are important. We want to caution you, however, that overly rigid pursuit them can be a trap for the unwary. Don’t let your goals get in the way of recognizing a great opportunity when it presents itself. Angie Hicks, co-founder of Angie’s list, recently said:

I think sometimes people don’t realize when opportunities come their way. Doors open and they don’t realize because it doesn’t fit their mold… I see people who have their five-year plan… but sometimes when you have that perfect plan… you have blinders on you forget to see the opportunities that present themselves.


If an opportunity arises that isn’t completely aligned with your goals, don’t reject it outright. Step back and look at whether that opportunity dovetails with your Mission & Vision. Ask yourself whether taking the opportunity might lead you closer to reaching your DUMB goals. Consider whether your SMART goals can be revised to bring tangible and ongoing successes in the new position.

Once you’ve undertaken that analysis, you’ll be better prepared to make the right decision. I have no doubt that you will!