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  • Writer's picturestevenrobertyoung

SMART Is Not Enough

There's a More Useful Approach to Success


Since 1981, SMART has been the go-to model for planning goals and deserves respect for its contribution to the subject.  However, as we evolve—be it through our ideas, technology, or anything else—, the former gives way to the improved, more useful, and more beneficial. We’re long overdue for an upgrade in our knowledge about how to plan and achieve goals.


IDEAL is an “active,” five-step model.  The steps are: Intend; Direct; Engage; Assess; Learn. The fifth step of IDEAL—Learn— makes IDEAL cyclical, which drives ongoing improvement through the use of the model.  That is, through the Learn aspect of IDEAL, the other aspects may be re-examined and revised, and the approach to success optimized.  Each iteration of IDEAL, therefore, builds on a potential for continued success facilitates the user’s ability to be more productive, and increases the chances for success of an aim.  

Each of IDEAL’s five steps contributes to the creation of the process and asks a key question:

​1. Intend

Question: Is the goal actionable?

An actionable goal is “sufficiently specific” to allow adequate planning.


2. Direct​

Question: How is success possible via a process?

A potential for success must be understood in terms of steps and objectives.

3. Engage​

Question: How is “productivity” defined?

In the IDEAL model, “productivity” refers to a performance standard.


4. Assess​

Question: What data is needed in order to validity progress?

Data is used to identify what is, and is not, working in efforts made to achieve progress.

5. Learn

Question:  Where are improvements needed? 

​It’s not enough to have data. Decisions must be made about how to apply new knowledge for the improvement of the plan.

As we evolve—be it through our ideas, technology, or anything else—, former standards give way to the more useful and beneficial.  While SMART was useful in its time, we need to account for additional and different requirements for success, as we understand the concept today.   Let’s quickly review each aspect of SMART in the context of the IDEAL perspective:

While SMART was useful in its time, we need to account for additional and different requirements for success, as we understand the concept today.   Let’s quickly review each aspect of SMART as it was most widely understood:

  • A SMART goal was specific. Yes, your goal must be specific. However, a specific goal is not sufficient when planning your success. A specific goal is not enough – it needs also to be actionable.  Actionable goals have answered how—through what steps—success is possible.

  • A SMART goal was measurable. Being “measurable” is not relevant to all goals, such as a goal to “start a business,” for example. Instead, if measurability does not apply to your goal, consider your progress in terms of what may be verified. Verifiable progress toward a goal might involve a checklist. If you had a goal to start a business, for example, you might list everything required for you to launch – to be in business. Each item on your checklist might represent a verifiable accomplishment that contributes to the success of the goal, and might include: obtaining a business license; opening a business account; registering a domain name and creating a website; etc. Each step moves you toward your goal and is verifiable. 

  • A SMART goal was achievable. How do you know if your goal is achievable? Imagine trying to achieve something not previously attempted.  It might be more useful to have an explanation for how you will attempt your goal; that is, it is more useful to define your process. By defining your process, you’ll have the benefit of a predetermined, step-by-step course for your success.

  • A SMART goal was relevant. If we set a goal, don’t we believe it has relevance?  Of course! Instead of relevance, the focus should be on motivation. If your motivation to pursue a goal is unclear to you or somehow problematic, you could face challenges to persist and succeed.  On this point about motivation, it may be worthwhile to think beyond the apparent reason for your goal. In addition to knowing the “why” for your goal, also identify your why-not, which is the set of potential reasons for how you could fail to achieve your goal. If you don’t know how you might fail, then you cannot be fully prepared to succeed.

  • Finally, a SMART goal was time-bound. But not all goals are or need to be deadline-driven. Imagine a company that aims to increase sales by 25% within a year.  How useful is that time frame to the work needed this month, this week, or today?  Instead of setting some distant endpoint, think of time in useful terms, as building blocks, or increments of opportunity to advance, and focus on what progress means, and requires, now—today. Consider the difference between a far-off goal—such as to increase sales by 25% over the course of a year—and the work required to accomplish that goal. Instead of a remote goal, think of your plan to increase sales in terms of what needs to be achieved this month, or by the results that you need this week from your various sales activities. 


Key Differences

The IDEAL process and the SMART goal-setting framework differ in several ways. Primary among these differences are their purposes: while SMART centers on simply defining a goal, IDEAL goes beyond this as a model for planning and pursuing the success of a goal. Here are a few additional comparison points:


Human Characteristics vs. Specific Criteria:

The IDEAL process is based on five human characteristics; the SMART goal-setting framework is based on goal-defining (NOT goal-planning) criteria, namely Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Natural Process vs. Rigid Framework:

IDEAL is flexible and adaptable, allowing for iterative adjustments and refinements throughout the process. In contrast, the SMART goal-setting framework is a rigid framework that requires strict adherence to its specific rules.


Scope vs. Limited Focus:

IDEAL encompasses a wide range of areas beyond goal setting. It addresses the entire process of planning and pursuing a goal—processes, strategies, workflows, etc. SMART Goals have a narrow focus and are mainly used for defining specific objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs).


Adaptability vs. Fixed Objectives:

IDEAL encourages discovery and improvement throughout the process. It emphasizes adaptation and continuous learning in order to succeed at an endeavor or reach a potential. SMART Goals are typically set in stone once established, with minimal flexibility to change the objectives once they are defined.


Emphasis on Engagement vs. Emphasis on Specificity:

The IDEAL process emphasizes the importance of taking action towards one's goals. In contrast, the SMART goal-setting framework emphasizes the importance of setting specific goals; SMART does not address how to succeed.


Simply put, the IDEAL process and the SMART goal-setting framework differ greatly, in their usefulness for achieving goals. IDEAL is a flexible and adaptable framework that focuses on the entire process of being productive. It emphasizes learning, adaptation, and process optimization. In contrast, SMART Goals are specific, measurable, and time-bound objectives that have rigid criteria and a narrow focus on goal setting. They do not address the broader aspects of process improvement and adaptation.


It's time for an upgrade in our knowledge about planning goals. There is a new and more useful way to think about and prepare for success. I hope this quick overview of the differences between IDEAL and SMART was enlightening. Of course, there’s much more that could be said, given the richness of IDEAL—as a model, process, and even a lifestyle!

Learn how to apply IDEAL for what's important to you. Learn more here.  You can also learn about IDEAL from my personal website:


Copyright © 2023 Steven Robert Young. All rights reserved.


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