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What does it take to reach your goals?

Does positive thinking help you reach your goals? Well, after more than twenty years of scientific study, researcher, Gabriele Oettingen, says the answer is No, but...Oettingen offers the WOOP goal. It turns out that wanting something and visualising it reduces your chances of getting it, unless you also imagine what obstacles you might face, and plan on ways to overcome them.


WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan: read more about it here.


A wish is a thing you want. An outcome is what specifically would come from achieving this positive thing. An obstacle is anything that might stop you from getting what you want. And a plan is how you will work around the obstacles.


But what if you get stuck?

I write a lot of fiction, and I found myself writing and editing the middle of my most recent novel. My usual approach is that I start with a bit of planning to establish the core experience I want for each section. Then I begin to explore, finding what catches me as it develops. As I progress I adapt and change the plan based on what I feel works best.

When I finished the mid-point high, which I was happy with, I felt my third quarter was falling flat. It seemed a great idea when I first thought it, but in execution, it was disjointed and frustratingly disrupting the crescendo of the final part of the book… so what did I do?

Dr Russell Ackoff introduced me to the idea of idealised design (this is why I always start by writing down the core experience I’m trying to create first) but in addition, idealised design advocates that you start at the end and work your way back to make a problem easier to solve. So, I wrote my finale, with the big reveal and confrontation with the main villain.

At first, doing this was hard, but I pushed on and found the words started to flow. Then, when I finished my draft, something struck me…

It was inspiration. The third quarter of the book got the can and I was ready to write! And the ideas flowed like the Vic Falls!

So what is Idealised Design?

Dr Russel Ackoff credits AT&T with the creation of this one, though Dr Ackoff was more prominent in spreading it. With this approach problems from the solution end, and listing out all of the core properties of what success would look like first. It's faster to solve a maze from the end rather than from the beginning - try it out.


In the case of the human mind, it's tough to answer the question, 'What should I do next?' because you're facing a vast ocean of possibilities. It's much easier to answer the question, 'Before this can be done, what else must be true first?' Followed by the question, 'And what has to be true before that can be the case?' - then you continue until you arrive where you are now.


This focuses your mind on what is possible, forming a direct line to achieving the end.

When working in Games, for instance, we often have to work with minimal feedback in the beginning. We don't have an audience yet, and we can't be sure what exactly they might want until we have something to show them. This state can be daunting.

Using Market Research to understand these people can be quite helpful because we can see who wants what and what are they currently using to fill the gap. With Idealised Design, we can start by asking, what does Mary, age 45, working mum and sports enthusiast, living with her family of five want to be able to do on her phone when she has a moment?

  • She is very busy, so she would want something she can start and stop without causing her any harm/frustration.

  • Which also means it should load quickly and seamlessly.

  • She wants something she can relate to, a hobby or interest she has.

  • She wants to feel like she is making progress every time she plays.

  • She wants to feel delighted and surprised often because her time to play is limited.

  • And she wants to meet and play with other people.

Now this list doesn't tell us specifically what to do yet, but it does tell us where to start. We need to know what hobbies and interests she has that would work as a light whimsical feel social game that supports easily dropping in and out.

Once we have established the answer, we can repeat this practice, until we have a refined vision that speaks to the Outcome that we are trying to create for her.


Focus on the Outcome rather than Output

The difference between these two is often hard for people to wrap their heads around and Output is often favoured because it's so tangible and definable. Be careful, this is a trap.


A way to think about the outcome is the experience you intend to create or the problem you're solving - usually for someone else. While output is something you do, like 'I want to make fish and chips for dinner'.


Stating this same example as an outcome would be 'Everyone in my family had a pleasant dinner, feel satisfied and will have energy for the next day'. We often get hung up on the output along with our lack of resources, time, or ability to achieve it.


However, that output is only one possible way to solve the problem. When we focus on the outcome instead we can see other opportunities. If I don't have potatoes for chips, no problem, I can use rice, look at that, I have lemon already.


This can also form the base of conflict with others. Each person becomes so fixed on the solution they have in mind, that they fail to see that the outcomes can co-exist.

Check out the Forge for Outcome Orientated Planning

Try it out!

Ask yourself, What have you been striving for that seems just out of reach?

If you got it, what specific benefits would it bring and to whom?

Make a list of the things that would be true.

Then start on the list, asking, what would need to be true first for one of these to happen?

What could stop it from happening?

How will I overcome that?

And keep going until you get to where you are now.

Maximise your impact by focusing on the most valuable thing first, ideally something that hits multiple points on your list at the same time.

Be minimalist, just in time, just enough with your planning. I suggest reserving details for what you will do in the next two weeks. After that a broader stroke that looks at the quarter, and after that the rest of the year.

You might find that you are constantly updating your plans, but life has a tendency to throw us curveballs, so there is real value in having a continuous planning habit. Most importantly, keep asking yourself, is this plan really still connected to the outcome I am trying to achieve?

I hope this helps you get a little closer to what is important for you today!

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