The Importance of Setting Goals

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The Importance of Setting Goals

In this article, Zone Leader John Vester uncovers a bogus Harvard study, but end up finding something useful in the end.

· Agile Zone ·
Free Resource

While attending a leadership training session recently, the instructor cited a Harvard study completed in 1989, which was focused on setting goals. The study was noted in the book, "What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School," by Mark McCormack.

The study began in 1979, asking those entering the Harvard MBA program about their goals. The responses were placed into the following groups:

  • 84% had no goals set at all.

  • 13% had goals, but not in a written format.

  • 3% had clearly defined/written goals.

The study then checked back with those same individuals ten years later to reveal:

  • The 13% made twice as much as the 84% that had no goals set in 1979.

  • The 3% earned ten times the other 97% put together.

The results were amazing and drove the instructor's point on the importance of having clearly defined goals.

The Reality

Hearing this amazing statistic, I could not wait to make this information part of my next DZone article. So, I started looking for the study, so that I could cite it for everyone to read. My thought was, merely keeping our goals written and documented can provide significant impacts to our lives.

After spending considerable time searching the interwebs, I came to the conclusion that the 1979 - 1989 Harvard MBA study simply does not exist. Searching found references to a similar study at Yale from 1953, which does not seem to exist either.

The reality is that no real record of Mark McCormack's citing can be found.


While a Harvard study with dramatic results for documenting goals does not exist, I truly believe there is merit to making sure time is spent defining goals. Additionally, I believe that putting goals down on paper, or some other form of documentation, provides more value than simply keeping them in the back of one's mind. By documenting goals, they simply become more concrete.

Do I think you will make ten times the amount of the other 97% who are not documenting their goals, probably not. I believe goals are designed to fulfill our dreams and ambitions. My thought has always been to do the things you love and the money will follow.

Have a really great day!

agile, goal setting, goals

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