My first presentation partner Mallory Wood has a favorite tagline when it comes to talking about social media:
Goals before tools!
We can be distracted by every shiny!thing we come across just for the sake of indulging our inner magpie, but when it comes right down to it, the toys are there to make what we do easier, more effective, and hopefully, more fun. We’re humans. We like fun. And ever since we were little, we’ve liked toys. My inner child is quite literally bouncing with glee on her kangaroo ball just thinking about it.
My external grownup is struggling with this, though, because I’ve see our toys get the better of us before. (Baseball + catch with my dad + my face = ultimate sadness.) Mallory’s natural extension of this mantra is the model for SMART goal setting, a concept I was only introduced to last October but still rings in my adult ears pleasantly as I echo it to others. SMART goal setting takes into account vital constraints to assure that our plans are:
— all in the hopes that we can do what we want to do the best we can for the people we’re trying to do it for.
I’m such a buzzkill, aren’t I? Being SMART sounds like the nerdy kid who stayed inside during recess to read books instead of playing kickball (yep, that was me) and it definitely doesn’t sound fun. But it is. There’s inherent joy in knowing something worked by planning, not just by chance, because while success is not always replicable, isolating some of the variables can definitely help us make parts of it more so in the future. Also, who said that fun can’t be the reason you’re setting a goal? (Not me. I believe that it can be.)
So herein lies a conundrum, one that I expressed on Twitter (of course):
Truth be told: I have no idea how any of us can set goals when there are few apparent reasons we do things on social media. (1)
We need to know why we’re social and what we do that is interesting. If you don’t know that, goal setting will be wretched; SM a joke. (2)
“We need to use it!” is not a goal. It hurts your cause. Even if you have SM accounts, back away for a bit & see what’s going on around you. (3)
Then, a brief interjection spawned a different line of thought:
@BrianCDoan: Although there’s also the line from STAR TREK: “We learn by doing.” Function can follow form as well as other way round. (4)
@plautmaayan:@BrianCDoan Definitely true. I think we get better, more aware with play. We can’t always start with goals. (5) Goal setting can’t happen if you don’t understand what you’re doing and what the world currently looks like. (6)
Brian “Oh-how-I-wish-he’d-been-a-professor-of-mine-but-alas-I-was-a-silly-young-cinema-studies-major” Doan is on to something here. Goal setting, in and of itself, is hard. It takes knowing where you are and where you want to go and how you’re going to get there. It’s not unlike planning a trip: distance and route matter. Transportation and travel buddies matter, too. Destination matters, perhaps most of all.
But even in figuring all this out, there are some basic things we need to know and tools that will help us make our trip delightful. We have to know how to read maps (and we need a map in the first place). We must figure out what we’re going to do when we arrive (with the help of a guidebook, or the handy-dandy internet, or some amazing friends). We have to know how to drive (or fly/bike/walk, or be capable of obtaining someone who can).
The combination of goals and tools is the classic chicken-and-egg situation. Goals can’t be set without a good grasp on the tools, and the tools can’t be harnessed to their fullest potential unless you have some goals to assess their abilities. But how do we get started? I’ve been doing this professionally for three years, and only in the past three months have I started to seriously contemplate what it takes to set (and I guess in some iteration of my brain, reach) an effective goal. And it’s all been based on observations, research, and above all else, focused fun in the form of experiments.
Playtime is expressed in several ways in my life. A personal photography project solidified my external identity as a photographer — the past eight years have involved five 365 photography projects; the first three of which later turned into A Day in the Life of Oberlin College, while the last two are a rediscovery of my inner photographer. Food is my ultimate form of play, with neverending experiments and products. At work, my play comes in the form of one-off projects — which I happily dub “warm fuzzy” projects — my favorite of which involves a stack of blank paper and markers, the creative beginnings of the now-yearly Thankful Turkey project.
I entered each of these experiments not with a goal, but with a silly itch I couldn’t scratch (creativity, you are occasionally contagious). I don’t know that I could have proposed any reasonable hypotheses or reached any conclusions without some tinkering in the toybox first. A goal would have been useless when I started; really, all I needed was to figure a bit of something out for myself first, stubbed toes, scratched knees, torn tshirts and all.
Your lasting takeaway? It’s okay. Go play. But come back and tackle my favorite addition to the SMART goal setting paradigm to prime yourself for the next go-around, one that makes SMART into SMARTER:
…though in my world, I’m starting to revise that R to Reflect, a necessary part of my current process. The ultimate hope is that each time you do this kind of exercise, you’ll be SMARTER than before. With each test, it’ll become easier, with each experiment, we’ll discover something new — but none of this is possible until we know that we’re working towards this kind of ideal, one embraces play as an exercise in producing good work.