If You Want to Achieve Your Goals, Stop Obsessing Over Them. Here's Why. Goal orientation gives us purpose and meaning — but goal obsession makes us psychologically immobile and incapable of seeing the full picture.

By Maria Vorovich

Key Takeaways

  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) occupy an outsized portion of our headspace.
  • We are losing out on the grand vista of value by obsessing over a single goal, the golden data point at the end of the rainbow.
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America harbors a uniquely goal-oriented culture. From our homes to our offices, from our bodies to our minds — a large majority of us are in a never-ending pursuit of measurable results in every aspect of our lives.

Our wristwatches count daily steps, water bottles grade water intake by volume, and weight scales connect to our iPhones to input calories eaten. Dating is a "numbers game." Even babies have sleep monitors that output slumber scores. Simply put: Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) occupy an outsized portion of our headspace.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more present than in a business setting. Corporate offices are filled with executives rushing to read the latest dashboard; social media managers eagerly tally every video view; performance marketers monitor every click. I feel this daily as both a new mom and the owner of a market research company. The last seven months with my daughter have had me losing sleep — and not for the reason that you think. She's sleeping great! But I'm staying up obsessively tracking her milestones; did she roll over adequately? Has she "cooed" the right number of times today? We use data to help us feel "in control," but ultimately, the data controls us.

My industry is guilty of the same crime. Data dashboards offer an illusion of control. Executives stare at statistics inside the boardroom while the real world runs rampant outside the door. I've seen it many times: a brand tracker reports a seemingly healthy brand, and suddenly, the business falls off a cliff. Culture shifts, consumer preferences change, and despite volumes of data, business leaders are blindsided.

We lose out on the grand vista of value by obsessing over a goal, the golden data point at the end of the rainbow. It's never about one number or one data point. The greatest value and the most interesting lessons come from what we'll call data wandering: exploring multiple data points, connecting dots and inviting in the necessary complexity vital to revelatory truths. Here are some perspectives that guide how you wander the data landscape – and relinquish single-digit-chasing.

Related: Why Focusing on KPIs Too Much Can Backfire

Data is the compass, not the captain

There's a reason that KPIs are "Key Performance Indicators" instead of "Key Performance Answers." This is your reminder that data very rarely has the solution to your question. Data is a barometer, a clue — a critical piece that completes the puzzle. When you shift your perspective and allow data to guide rather than lead, you will become freer to think critically and creatively. As a market researcher, I'm asking you to consider your data an ellipsis versus a full-stop period. In your day to day, practice this mantra by inserting the statement, "That's interesting, I wonder if…" after every data point you encounter – in work and life.

Data is a slice, not the pie

In industry and society, we've gotten really good at housing, analyzing and gleaning insight from big data. Still, it can feel like we are drowning in information — information that can be reliable and contradictory at the same time. This is because there will always be more data and a different way to ask the same questions or analyze the same data. And no matter how much data you've succeeded at aggregating, you're often looking at a sliver of reality. If there is a world of truth outside of a metaphorical house, you are looking through a tiny crack in the wall and what you see will always be a partial view. And that's ok, for now. As our industry stands, there is no pie (cue the Matrix: there is no spoon!). When you realize that all data is a glimpse, it makes wandering that much more fun.

Related: How to Determine Your KPIs and Achieve Profitability

Data is strong in its flexibility, not its rigidity.

In life and in business, novelty and change are the norm, not the exception. When we become too rigid in "how we do things" and the data sets we monitor and track, we lose sight of the world around us. Tunnel vision is the antithesis of exploration, and it's often the leading cause of a business's failure to innovate. Kodak was hyper-focused on the success of film photography and didn't see the digital revolution. Xerox was celebrating healthy sales data around copy machines and chose to stifle innovation in favor of their hero product. Blockbuster overvalued the strength of its brand equity measures, failing to see the rise of the little-known company named Netflix.

Goal orientation gives us purpose and meaning – but goal obsession makes us psychologically immobile and incapable of seeing the full picture. Consider how 2024 can be your year to embrace feeling out of control – welcoming the idea that despite all the data in the world, you may still not know "for sure." This will open you to more innovation, evolution, and changes, big and small.

Maria Vorovich

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Chief Strategy Officer and Data Storyteller

Co-founder of GoodQues, a top global research company (StartupPill 2021) and among the fastest-growing brands in the US (Inc Magazine 2023), services TikTok, Pepsi, Meta and more. Maria is an EFFIES, Cannes Lion, and Clios award winner; regularly speaks on 'humanity in data' at SXSW, Adweek, etc.

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