SMART targets are all over the shop.

Businesses love them and you’ll find plenty of them in schools as part of staff policies and CPD PowerPoints. SLTs are super-users of SMART targets and you will find them sprinkled all over their school improvement plans.

Although SMART targets might serve a purpose, they aren’t big and they aren’t clever. In fact, setting SMART targets is a very self-limiting way of doing things .

We teach students to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound as if that’s the only way to approach a target. But it isn’t.

Undoubtedly we all need to set goals in our lives because they give us a purpose and something to aim for. Having clearly defined objectives that we can work towards keep us focused and channels our energies and efforts. But do we always need to default to SMART as the modus operandi?

SMART goals are great if you want to set realistic goals that you know you can reach but what about venturing outside of your comfort zone?

SMART goals and spreadsheets are just a bit too corporate and routine and can be stifling in a school environment. They might look on the surface of things that they aim high but they lack inspiration and can choke potential because they just don’t dream big enough.

SMART goals are all about colouring inside the lines and rather than being the enablers of bold action, they act as barriers and encourage average.

Achievement trainer Brendon Burchard in his book High Performance Habits thinks that there is another way, a better way and our culture of thinking needs to change. He thinks that when we think about our goals then the DUMB framework is more ambitious and improves our energy, focus, habits and learning.

This framework focuses on the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’ and deliberately dreams big and sets large goals.

Burchard recommends that if we want to make our dreams a reality and achieve something meaningful  then we need to broaden our perspective and make our goals D.U.M.B

I think we can apply this to helping students aim for the Moon, not the next street. Let us tell students that their goals need to be:

1. Dream-driven

Build a big dream and imagine it. Don’t just focus on tasks but have a vision and dream without fear of failure, self-oppression and doubt.

2. Uplifting

Your big dream needs to be inspiring, uplifting and give you a positive feeling. Thinking about it should bring a mixture of joy and apprehension. If it makes you happy and it frightens you then that’s good, you are dreaming big.

3. Method-friendly

To achieve your dream, you need to be able to actually obtain it which means having the systems and methods in place to keep making progress. These systems may include the support of teachers and parents, or the habits of mind you can build over time to help you get to where you are going.

4. Behaviour-triggered

Establishing behaviours that trigger action is one of the most powerful ways to make progress towards a big dream. When you set a goal, you need to create triggers (e.g. reading about a role model) that remind you to keep chasing them.

By applying DUMB goals we are encouraging students to focus on the dream first and the goal second.

Burchard says SMART goals tend to be ordinary and small and don’t go far enough. He says they  don’t supersize to anything extraordinary because they lack courage and “Achieving significant things—real dreams and aspirations that demand real power and guts—requires bigger thinking.”


DUMB goals are purposely huge but that doesn’t mean they are Dangerously Unattainable, Monstrously Big goals. Anything worth striving for isn’t going to be easy to attain but will involves struggle and failures along the way. Surely we need to encourage students to think big and always have it in their minds they have an outside chance of getting there.

But DUMB goals also need to be what Mark Murphy refers to as HARD goals by being heartfelt, animated, required and difficult.

If students want to be an astronaut, a 3-starred Michelin chef or a global football sensation then DUMB goals are the way to get there and that also means playing it HARD.

School leaders might want to think whether they are interested in being SMART or being DUMB. The late Steve Jobs urged his people to greatness by saying “We’re here to put a dent in the universe.”

SMART goals don’t make much of a dent, they just leave the odd scratch mark.

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