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Why SMART Objectives Are Dumb

        posted by , February 26, 2013

Management fads come and go.

Once in a while, a management idea comes a long that really takes hold. An idea that becomes an unshakable business doctrine.

One such idea, is SMART objectives.

SMART objectives are widely used for project requirements and employee targets. If you're business has a goal, it's probably SMART.

SMART objectives are overused. They're an excellent way to plan static, predicable, measurable tasks. They're a terrible way to plan innovation.

Definition: SMART

SMART is a set of criteria for setting objectives (goals). The 5 SMART criteria are that an objective be:


Each of the SMART criteria obstructs innovation:


We want you to create something new and completely original. Before you start, you need to tell us specifically what it will be.

Specific goals are a good idea when automating an existing process. You know the details of your goals from the start.

Specific goals make no sense for innovation. Being specific about your goals limits your options from the start.


Before you start, you need to tell us specifically how you'll measure results with a number.

SMART evolved in a productivity-driven management environment. If you're focused on systemization and automation you need to measure everything with quantifiable measurements. You need to plan how you'll measure things even before you start.

None of this makes sense if your goal is innovation.

If you're trying to come up with a completely new industry. A new type of customer experience. A new product that no one's ever imagined. You don't start by specifying exactly how you'll measure it.

Achievable & Realistic

Let's be as creative as possible. But first we need to set goals that are achievable & realistic.

SMART objectives put your ideas into a neat little box before you start. They aren't particularly helpful when you're seeking innovation.


Business is most certainly time-sensitive. However, not all of your goals can be scheduled upfront.

Innovation is cultivated not controlled.

One well known innovation management technique is to allow certain employees to spend 20% of their work hours on independent research initiatives. These initiatives aren't time-managed or controlled.

Employees can propose that their 20% initiatives become products or company initiatives. Financial incentives are put in place to reward innovation that's successfully commercialized.

When To Use SMART

SMART objectives are effective when you know upfront exactly what you need to do. In an innovative company, this might represent as little as 10% of initiatives.

This post is an installment in the ongoing series Management: The Missing Manual

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