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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