The Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths

28 12 2011

I mentioned in a previous posting the Harvard Business School Study where a graduating class was asked whether they had written goals, then followed up ten years later. The source of this story seems to have been the book by Mark McCormack, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive. The details of the study are reported to be as follows:

The 1979 Harvard Business School Graduating Class were asked the following question: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” 3% reported they had written goals and plans; 13% had goals, but not written down and 84 percent had no specific goals. The follow-up, ten years later showed that the 13% who had goals were earning an average twice as much as the 84% who did not have goals. And the 3% who had written goals and plans were earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together.

A pretty compelling case, wouldn’t you say? If only the story were true.

Like many urban myths, while there is truth in the sentiment – the moral of the story, if you will – the actual story is not true. This study was not conducted on the Harvard Business School Graduates. Nor was it conducted at Yale in 1953. Yale apparently gets a lot of questions about this and even have a response posted on their website.

Thankfully, Gail Matthews PhD from Dominican University has now done the study – and more . Her study looked at the benefits of having goals v writing the goals down v having an action plan v having an accountability mechanism (in this case, submitting a weekly report to a friend on progress). And the results all support what you would expect.

Study on goal setting by Gail Matthews, PhD, Dominican University

So the keys are:
1. be clear on your goals and write them down.
2. develop a plan on how you are going to achieve them.
3. Develop an accountability mechanism. This needs to be external to you – sadly we are not very good at keeping ourselves accountable, which is why the various weight-watching companies which require you to turn up weekly are all so successful.

This is part of a series on goal-setting. To read the other postings, click below.
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the journey as well as the goal
Being Accountable

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9 responses

28 12 2011
Being accountable « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] « The Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths […]

28 12 2011
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] The Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths « Mud Map to Life in the Mode… (14:15:12) : […]

28 12 2011
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal) « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] goal-setting. Others are below: Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes Goodbye to old (bad) habits The Harvard Business School Study…or urban internet myths Being accountable GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

28 12 2011
Goodbye to old (bad) habits « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] are below: Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal) The Harvard Business School Study…or urban internet myths Being accountable GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

28 12 2011
Analysis Paralysis « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] Comments Goodbye to old (bad)… on Being accountableGoodbye to old (bad)… on The Harvard Business School st…It’s about the… on Being accountableIt’s about the… on The Harvard […]

30 12 2011
Top Five New Year’s Resolutions « Mud Map to Life in the Modern Age

[…] – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! Goodbye to old (bad) habits It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal) Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths Being Accountable Analysis Paralysis GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", […]

2 11 2012
Goals – the Good, the Bad, and the Godly | Samuel Choi

[…] are aware of the reality of the good and the bad of goal setting culture. This study (Read it HERE) shows realistically that you need to write down goals, have a friend who holds you accountable and […]

6 01 2014
Jan 7th Chat – Resolutions, Focus and Goals – Oh My! | hcldr

[…] During my research I learned that one of my favourite stories about the benefits of goal setting is nothing more than an urban myth. Perhaps you have hear the story of the study done on a Harvard Business School class that showed that only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later those same 3% had accumulated wealth 10 times greater than the rest of the class combined. I learned that this “study” never actually happened. You can read more about it here. […]

26 03 2015
Goals Study from Harvard 1979 - Five Minutes Every Day

[…] variables make a difference.  It could be an interesting experiment.  Turns out it may not be true.   A real one was done at Dominican University instead.  Doesn’t say much about the […]

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