Goal Setting

6 Reasons Goal Setting Is a Complete Waste of Time for New Entrepreneurs

Contrary to what you've always been told, goal setting isn't all that important for new entrepreneurs.
6 Reasons Goal Setting Is a Complete Waste of Time for New Entrepreneurs
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Guest Writer
Founder and CEO of Echelon Copy LLC
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When first entering the business world, most aspiring entrepreneurs start by creating a list of goals for their new business. While you might think that this is the best way to get on track for startup success, you're in for a surprise. Because today, I'm going to tell you that line of thinking is dead wrong.

Related: There Is a Big Difference Between Setting Goals and Achieving Goals

This doesn't mean that goal setting is evil. But, I've learned that for most new entrepreneurs, it isn't nearly as important as we think it is.

Think about it for a moment: We're often encouraged to establish "SMART" goals -- goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. But, if you're just starting your business, you don't necessarily know what qualifies as an "achievable" goal.

Sure, goal setting can be a great motivator, but when you place too much emphasis on continually creating and redefining formal goals, you'll miss out on bigger and better opportunities. Here's a closer look at some of the reasons why goal setting shouldn't necessarily be your No. 1 priority.

1. Bad goals are worse than no goals.

As previously mentioned, actually setting good goals is much easier said than done. This is especially true when you're first starting your business and aren't entirely sure how quickly you can expect to grow. As such, it becomes much more difficult to create goals that genuinely improve performance.

An underwhelming goal could make you feel like a success, even though your company hasn't even begun to turn a profit. This false sense of confidence can then contribute to other business mistakes. Alternatively, setting overly ambitious goals could cause you to stretch yourself too thin or fail to realize when you've made legitimate progress.

Citing Ford's disastrous (and explosive) Pinto, Sean Silverthorne wrote in an article for Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, "Bad 'side effects' produced by goal setting programs include a rise in unethical behavior, over-focus on one area while neglecting other parts of the business, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation." None of that is a recipe for long-term success.

Related: How Different Leaders, Such as President Trump and Elon Musk, Set Goals (Infographic)

2. The importance of process tends to be overlooked.

Goal setting tends to focus on the future -- those things you hope to accomplish in the coming months or years. The problem is that you don't have control over the future. You don't know what events might impact your industry.

All too often, an increased emphasis on goal setting comes at the expense of fine-tuning the processes that will help you become successful. "Goal setting keeps you focused on arbitrary metrics and vision plans; the actual process keeps you in the present and focused on what's right in front of you," Alex Nerney, co-founder of Create and Go, told me in an email.

He and his girlfriend Lauren used the "process" to create two six-figure blogs where they make over $100,000 per month blogging, and travel the world together. He advised, "The present moment is the only thing you can control, so staying in the moment should be where you spend the majority of your time."

You should be focusing on what you can do now to improve your startup rather than making lofty goals for the future.

Related: You'll Never Accomplish Goals You Don't Really Care About

3. The internet changes everything.

The internet has completely revolutionized things for entrepreneurs. I know I certainly wouldn't have been able to launch my own startup without the great resources the internet makes available.

At the same time, however, the rapidly changing digital world makes many goal setting methods obsolete. Just think of how many companies have had to completely re-evaluate their social media goals each time Facebook changes its algorithms -- and with the social media giant's current crisis, who knows what's coming next?

Internet platforms are constantly changing, which makes setting long-term goals a big waste of time. By focusing on the now, you'll be less likely to get trapped in a process that becomes obsolete in a few months' time.

Related: The Tim Ferriss Approach to Setting Goals: Rig the Game so You Win

4. Customer response trumps vision.

You may think you want to take your new company in a particular direction -- but if the customer interest isn't there, is it really worth setting goals for it? Too many budding entrepreneurs set goals that focus on their vision, while neglecting the importance of addressing customer needs.

As marketing executive Connor Barrett explains, "Companies who ignore their customers and plow on according to their own ideas run the risk of failing. Ignoring customer data means that companies rely on luck alone to succeed. Worse still, companies who act without considering their customers may make their customer's situation worse."

Don't let vision-focused goals trump collecting feedback and addressing your customer pain points. Otherwise, you won't be able to adapt when needed and deliver a product they actually want.

Related: There Is a Major Problem With Your Goals

5. The fear of failure is always close by.

While goals can certainly be inspiring, all too often they have the opposite effect -- especially in those early days of your startup. Think about how you feel when you don't accomplish a goal. It doesn't matter whether the goal was realistic or not -- it still results in negative feelings that directly impact how you approach your work.

As human resources expert Susan M. Heathfield explains, "Poor goal setting makes people cynical, wastes their time and fosters confusion about where to concentrate actions and energy." If you place too much emphasis on poorly planned goals, you'll lose enthusiasm for your work, possibly causing you to drop your goals and entrepreneurial aspirations entirely.

Related: The Reason We Don't Follow Through on What We Set Out to Do

6. Creativity tends to be placed on the back burner.

Perhaps worst of all, putting too much focus on goals can completely kill your creativity. As a new entrepreneur, being able to come up with unique solutions is essential if you wish to have any hope of lasting success.

The creative journey is largely about discovering new ideas and solutions along the way as you work to solve a problem. This is where much of the joy of being an entrepreneur comes from. By planning an accomplishment in advance, however, there's a good chance you'll miss out on these opportunities altogether.

Goal setting often locks us into a set process or idea. It makes us unwilling to change, even when market trends indicate that our current plan isn't going to work. Allowing yourself to work creatively won't just make you happier with what you do -- you'll also be better able to adapt your business to achieve lasting results.

Opt for a more proactive approach.

I won't deny that there are plenty of people out there who attribute their success to goal setting. But, in entrepreneurship, there's no such thing as a "one size fits all" solution. As a new entrepreneur, you only have so long to turn your idea into a viable company. Avoiding goal setting may seem counterintuitive, but it may be necessary to help you better focus on the things that matter most.

Related Video: How to Choose a Goal You Can Achieve

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