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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Why goals are useless for innovative thinking [Wise Wednesdays]

If you’ve ever gotten caught in procrastination, you’ll know that having a goal is not enough to get things done. In my experience, when clients have a breakthrough, it’s often because they realise how much they can get done when they’re less attached to goals and more engaged with the process. Interestingly, they try less, struggle less and suffer less but get more (of the right things) done. This generates a positive cycle.

One of the factors is that by letting go of attachment to goals, their attention and therefore energy is less absorbed in one direction. It’s freed up to generate better ideas that get them to the goal faster with less effort.

They start letting go of projects that aren’t aligned and suddenly they have the more cognitive space. This enables creative solutions. Recovering cognitive space also means they can spot and engage with opportunities. It can seem magical because things that seemed impossible just fall into place. For example, you finally get a call back about an opportunity, the investment comes through or a thorny problem just goes away. How much of this is the magic of flow and how much is coincidence is up for debate. But it feels great!

Creative thinking that generates innovative solutions and “aha moments” has been shown to require space, quiet and freedom from focused, goal-oriented executive functioning of the brain. That’s why you get your aha moments in the shower, on a walk or in the middle of an unrelated activity. It also requires an deepening of awareness inwards to activate all that subconscious knowledge and experience in your mind.

Staying in the flow of aha moments more consistently entails a shift in mindset (from the doer/controller) to the (co-creator). This requires more free time and space in your diary and using it to direct your attention inward.

Quiet space + deep awareness

Goal-oriented doer/controller =======> Co-creator in flow

[See the video for a couple of tips]

This isn’t just a nice-to-have. IBM, a company that has successfully reinvented itself despite fierce competition from Apple, refer to creativity as the reason why agile companies create and sustain a high return on investment (ROI). Its global survey of 1500 CEO's (Capitalizing on Complexity) found that creativity was considered to be the number one leadership trait for the future.

Yet organisations often fail to provide the right environment to foster this higher cognitive functioning in people while expecting them to “innovate”. Work culture expectations are still clustered around analysis and task delivery. But that ain’t going to cut the mustard for happy, fruitful and fulfilling work in the 21st century.

So if you find yourself in an environment that doesn’t allow you to foster your inner-genius, you can always create the space for yourself in your own time. After all, you may work for an organisation, but you are always the boss of you.

Have a great week,


Update: The next Leaders Circle is fully booked. We won’t have one in March due to travel but if you’d like to explore one-to-one coaching on career transformation, the entrepreneurial mindset or leadership in service, you’re welcome to email me on I’ll send you a questionnaire to complete and if I think I can help I’ll offer you a time to speak. Or we can have a short call and see where it goes.

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