Thank you for allowing this shameless self-promotion before today’s story. In October, I was a guest on the Northern Trust Advisors Podcast, and I just learned that this podcast made their top ten for 2021. So exciting! Here’s a link if you want to listen to a 1.5-minute excerpt. 

When SMART Goals aren’t working, try iterating instead.  

Following is a success story from the medical field. Perhaps it’s worth trying in the business world? The common theme, of course, is we humans are part of both scenarios. 

Kyra Bobiner, MD, developed a diet management program for the CDC to improve their diabetes prevention program. Drawing on her neuroscience training, Dr. Bobiner’s set out to find a diet management solution to close the gap between intention and action. She discovered that an iterative approach, which she calls the Iterative Mindset, helped her patients permanently replace bad habits with healthy, life-affirming ones. 

Bobiner worked with patients who previously tried unsuccessfully to make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their health. “These people faced every possible headwind of financial and social stress — single parenting, working two jobs, and limited access to healthy food — yet they lost weight and improved their health. The common link between them was an Iterative Mindset, a resilient way of thinking that helped them approach behavior change like an experiment — with curiosity, innovation, and no self-blame if the first iteration didn’t work out as planned.”

If we buy into Dr. Bobiner’s approach, does this mean we should give up on SMART Goals? Or are there times when SMART goals, i.e., a Performance Mindset is a more effective approach, and other times when an Iterative Mindset is more effective? 

SMART goals are all about measurement and tracking. This approach works well for well-defined, short-term tasks, and most importantly, actions that do not require behavior change. On the other hand, when our intention is less clear, and the outcome requires innovation or behavior change, an Iterative Mindset will likely win. 

In summary, Bobiner’s success is a reminder that the scientific method, particularly trial and error experiments, works for behavior modification and business innovation just as it does for health and science. 

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