Are DUMB Goals Better Than SMART Goals?

If you’ve ever read anything related to achievement, motivation or personal development, you’ve no doubt come across the idea of Goal Setting. More often than not, the conversation revolves around setting SMART goals. This is an acronym for goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Have you ever heard of DUMB goals? I hadn’t until I watched this video from Brendon Burchard, a public speaker and best-selling author of the recently released book, The Motivation Manifesto.  

In this video, Brendon says that our focus on SMART goals limits us to setting “realistic” goals that fail to inspire the human spirit. Instead, he suggests, we should set our sights much higher and focus on “moonshot” goals. Think changing the world. Think putting a man on the moon. Think serving millions of people.

Think DUMB Goals. According to Brendon, these are goals that are:

  • Dream-Driven
  • Uplifitng
  • Method-Friendly
  • Behavior-Driven

I have mixed feelings on this. There’s no doubt that Brendon is an amazing public speaker. As I watched the video, I could feel the energy surging through my body. That alone was well worth the 12 minutes it took to watch the video.

Still, his suggestion to establish unrealistic, “moonshot” goals doesn’t sit right with me. I agree that we need to set goals that inspire us to take consistent, daily action and persevere through the inevitable challenges and setbacks. But my experience and research tells me setting goals that are too far out of reach is – for most people – a recipe for failure.

But that’s just me. What’s your take on it?

There are 23 brilliant comments

  1. “DUMB enough” goals will make you find the SMART way/ways/steps that will get you there through relentless trial-and-error; you’ll never give up on your “DUMB enough” dream – instead, you will get closer and closer to it, and finally, you will get there (or, die trying haha. But isn’t that a much nicer death…). SMART ones are disposable and no-one will care (so, you shouldn’t, either).

  2. Your perspective seems rooted in the belief that dreams are unattainable. How sad. I’ve achieved several notable achievements that others only dream about. If I had followed so-called “good advice” about using Smart Goals then I would never have achieved such things. Incidentally there appears to be about a half-a-dozen different viewpoints on what SMART stands for (see Wikipedia entry) and I find pretty much all of them uninspiring. I find they get in my way, not help propel me forward.

    To achieve remarkable things in real life requires an adaptability and agility that SMART goals simply don’t allow for. Modern business practice recognises this, which is why “stuffy” and ineffective SMART goals take a backseat now in preference to Lean Startups and Agile working practices. That’s the area of success that DUMB goals play in to.

    If when you watch Brendon’s video you think he’s recommending setting goals that you could never possibly achieve, then you’ve totally misunderstood the principle.

    1. Interesting. I saw this in the opposite; dream big first (DUMB) then use the SMART process to see it through

      1. Yup. Go big and then break it down. Even without realizing the dream goal, you’d be ahead of where you were before. You do need the big stuff to motivate you to keep going.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I’m probably not as well versed in all this as you guys as I’ve just recently been looking into personal development and high achievement. But my opinion is – why do we need to choose between the two? Why not have both? Similar to what another poster has already said.

    DUMB goals give you that purpose, motivation and inspiration. Everyone needs them. You’ll have one or two of these and these would be long term. e.g. I want to solve world hunger.
    SMART goals are tiny steps that you would take to reach the above dreams. You’ll have loads of these and they would be short term. e.g. make a list of all charities and their contact details within the local area by tomorrow evening.

    Dreams cannot be realistic – it contradicts the very meaning. We should aim high and think big (DUMB) and we should construct plans to help us achieve those goals (SMART).

    I might be completely off but that was my feeling as I watched the video, and as I read your comments.

      1. DUMB goals seem a variant on the BHAG – big hairy audacious goals. The thing is, you can only have one BHAG, and that needs to be broken down into multiple steps, each of which is a goal so that the group has repeated small wins along the way to the BHAG. As they say, every journey of a thousand miles starts with one step (and proceeds one step at a time).

        Another issue with SMART goals arises in creative work – if you make the goal too specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound, you are essentially telling the person involved precisely what to do – to the point of micromanagement. It leaves no room for play and experimentation, and hence no room for learning and innovation. So SMART is more relevant for well-defined, well-understood, standard tasks, whereas DUMB, or BHAG, is more inspirational, long-haul, virgin territory exploration and innovation stuff.

  4. I understand your point of view, however, I am more toward Brendan and his DUMB goals. If we confine ourselves to things we think we can achieve we may be cheating ourselves. We need to dream big. The book that comes to mind is Gifted Hands and then Think Big…if Ben Carson had not dared to dream…a dream which those around him would have said was unrealistic he would not be where he is today. Unrealistic is relative, what appears unrealistic to you may not be to me. It is not just matter of setting goals and then doing nothing, we have to be prepared to do what it takes to get what we want. I have found that by writing a list of things I want regardless of how outlandish that out of that list comes something that I have the ability to achieve.

    1. Thanks for the input, Michele. I believe it’s largely irrelevant if your goal seems unrealistic to someone else. The question is, does it seem realistic to you? And maybe “realistic” is not the best word to use. Maybe the better word is “possibility.” Does the goal seem possible to you? If deep in your heart, you don’t believe the goal is possible, it’s unlikely that you’ll put in the time and effort necessary to realize it.

      Perhaps you’re familiar with the psychological construct known as self-efficacy. This is a fundamental theory in psychology that says our beliefs about our ability to complete tasks and goals greatly impacts our motivation to pursue the goal.

  5. My occupation is a project manager. As such, any project, can be categorised as a goal. Before you start a project, you have to understand what the project is going to give you, what the risks are and what issues are in your way to achieving success. Similarly in life, we should think through what we want to achieve from our goal and the likelihood of success. OK it’s good to take risks now and again but if your goal it’s a non-starter then why waste your time.

  6. I have found over the years, that whenever I set a goal, then achieve it, I can go into a real funk — unless I set another goal which stretches me even more. Recently, we did a bit RE Investor expo, with whole host of excellent speakers. We had record involvement with speakers and vendors, and near record for attendance. And we even made the best profits ever, yet … immediately afterwords, I felt almost depressed. The endorphins were depleted, and I think this is the point that Brendan B. is making, as does Tony Robbins, Jim Collins, and many others. We have to set some D.U.M.B. goals, some BHAG’s that REALLY stretch us, otherwise, our list just seem like menial labor which is inadequate to stimulate the mind of a true innovator. Make sense?

    1. Thanks for the input Andrew. Well-said, and I believe this makes sense for some folks; the “high-achievement” crowd perhaps. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but I believe most people (including me) don’t fall into that category. For these folks, I contend that it’s best to focus on realistic, achievable goals, at least initially. Then perhaps build up to the “moonshot” goals that Brendon talks about.

      1. Why are we so afraid of failure!? How many times did we fail before landing on the moon? Failure builds grit, resiliency, and strength. Dumb goals can cultivate that. Just because they can’t happen overnight, are risky, and might make us sad doesn’t mean they’re not worth it.

  7. I agree with setting motivating goals that stretch you. However, to accomplish “dream driven” goals you have to translate them into SMART goals. Does this guy think that eradicating malaria doesn’t require painstaking long term planning and measurement? This whole concept is ridiculous to me. Oh, I do like the idea of behavior driven triggers, but that is nothing new.

    1. I have a different view. DUMB goals are more important. Yes, you need smart goals to get there, but without DUMB goals I have to ask, what’s the point? Without that larger vision or dream, how can you be a good leader? How can you inspire others? You can’t. I don’t think that Burchard’s point was that you don’t use Smart goals. The point he was making is that smart goals are vastly overvalued in our society – and that’s true in my experience.

      1. Thanks for the input Jon.

        You ask, “without DUMB goals, what’s the point?”

        To me, the point is to set goals that stretch and inspire you, but are also within the realm of possibility (based on the resources at your disposal).

      2. Michael, if you are like me and serve a mighty God, the same God that created the universe then you have been created in His image. When I think in those terms there is nothing I can’t accomplish with His help!

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