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Free to Wander

This author believes the key to creativity is being goal-free.

Halfway through his travels around the country, author Stephen Shapiro had a revelation while researching for a sequel to his book 24/7 Innovation. Reviewing his interview notes, Shapiro saw that the most creative and passionate business leaders tended to live lives "free from the burden of goals." As a result, he switched gears and penned his latest book, Goal-Free Living. Shapiro conducts seminars on corporate innovation and creativity and is enthusiastically spreading the goal-free philosophy.

Entrepreneur: Why is goal-setting the wrong approach?

Stephen Shapiro: Businesses set targets they think are important, but as the business landscape changes, suddenly they're moving in the wrong direction.

Entrepreneur: How is being goal-free good for entrepreneurs?

Shapiro: The smaller the business, the more flexibility it has to change, which is its competitive advantage. Being goal-free is about having the courage to change direction when you feel so inspired and reassessing constantly as you're moving forward. I call it "meandering with purpose." Allow things to unfold experientially.

Entrepreneur: How should one approach this change in thinking?

Shapiro: One of the secrets in the book is to seek out adventure--use a compass, not a map. It's really about collecting new experiences, trying new things and doing things in new ways. The real breakthrough thinking comes from borrowing best practices from another industry or just creative thinking--doing something completely new by connecting different ideas together in new ways. Oscillate in and out of goals. Instead of to-do lists, I suggest could-do lists, which are all the [tasks] you might do and get excited about, but you only pick them off when you are inspired to do them.

The other secret is remaining detached in personal and business life. It's not being detached from the process, but from the outcome. The more we try hard to achieve our goals, the less likely we are to achieve them, so we really need to let go of them, and that takes practice.

This story appears in the April 2006 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »