Once when I was out and about with my daughter Claire we saw a guy with a t-shirt that said “World’s Greatest Dad.” Claire asked me, “Do you think that guy is really the world’s greatest dad? I wonder what he does that makes him the greatest?” I thought her questions were pretty funny. I responded, “there’s no way to measure if someone is the best dad. It’s probably just a gift from his kids for Father’s Day and he feels compelled to wear it now and then.” She seemed satisfied with my sort of cynical answer and we went about our day. But her question stuck with me.
Obviously, there is no Guinness Book of World Records entry for “greatest dad,” “best grandpa,” or even “best singer” because the idea of “best’ or “greatest” is subjective. Recently, I was at the airport, and the guys next to me spent nearly 20 minutes arguing whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the best basketball player of all time. Even with loads of player statistics, the idea of who’s the GOAT (greatest of all time) is subjective (for example, the guy arguing for LeBron said that his statistics would crush Jordan’s if LeBron had a teammate the caliber of Scottie Pippen).
Because of their subjective, unmeasurable nature, it seems silly to have a goal of being the “best” or “greatest” at something. In corporate America, we are taught that goals should be “SMART” or Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. A goal of being the best violates all five of these criteria. So, should we ever have a goal to be the best at something?
The Power of Unmeasurable Goals
In the opening to her memoir Go for the Goal, soccer star Mia Hamm says, “Many people say I’m the best women’s soccer player in the world. I don’t think so. And because of that, someday I just might be.” Mia doesn’t see “best” as a plateau — it’s a direction of continuous improvement. An unattainable metric that can be used to set a course. I can imagine Mia asking herself, “what do I need to do to be the best?”
Mia’s statement had a huge impact on me when I read it 15 years ago. I realized that having an unmeasurable, unattainable goal is a powerful way to look at yourself or your organization. Asking what you would need to do to be the best is a great guide for making decisions and establishing processes.
For example, going back to World’s Greatest Dad t-shirt — what would a dad need to do to be in the running for such a title? Probably things like playing with his kids, supporting them in good times and bad, listening, paying attention, showing up to their sporting events (and not screaming at them from the sidelines), not yelling at them, not beating them, etc. Imagine what the world would be like if all dads woke up every morning and said to themselves “today, I’m going to try to be the Greatest Dad in the World”?
At my company our management team has adopted this mindset. An unmeasurable goal we’ve set for ourselves is to be the “best multi-family office in the U.S.” (Which may make us the best in the world, which would mean that we’d be the best in the Solar System — but there we have to stop, because there may be an amazing multi-family office on a planet elsewhere in our galaxy or maybe in one of the other hundreds of billions of galaxies.) When we make strategic decisions we stop and ask ourselves “what would the best multi-family office” do? This helps us make the right decision.
This concept of thinking about what you’d have to do to be the best provides a North Star for your decisions and behavior. What would it take to be the best dog owner? Best spouse? Best co-worker/leader? Best friend? Best neighbor?
Inspiration personified !!!