Don't you believe it: It's smart to have SMART objectives

The idea that objectives should always be SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed - seems made for these straitened times. But here's why SMART objectives are really dumb.

by Alastair Dryburgh
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Specific. Why is this a good thing? It excludes objectives like 'insanely great technology' (Apple), 'a totally new way of seeing' (Picasso) or 'service so good that customers rave about it' (anyone? I wish someone would).

Measurable. Hmm. So something measurably average is better than something clearly outstanding but hard to quantify.

Achievable and Realistic. The very last things that objectives should be. For starters, objectives that we know we can achieve are inevitably much less challenging than ones we might achieve, given hard work and a following wind. But the worst thing about achievable objectives is that once we meet them, we stop trying. How much stronger is an impossible goal like 'be the world's greatest X'. It lifts and inspires us. It sets a direction. We may never get there, but every day we can try to get a little closer.

Timed. This creates the dangerous illusion that we can decide not only what is going to change, but how long it will take. In reality, the world is unpredictable, and we need to be ready to change with it.

SMART objectives are part of an obsolete management paradigm that assumes not only that the future is predictable, but also that it will be similar to the present and that our continued success will simply require more of what we are already doing. And if you believe that, you really are in trouble.

- Alistair Dryburgh is the chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants. Read more at

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