Flossing and startups

I went to the dentist recently.

I’m always slightly embarrased at the dentist. It’s as if I’m 11 years old all over again where I know I did something wrong and I’m just waiting to be caught.

I sat in the chair and after a few minutes of chit-chat the hygentist began her ritualistic socratic questioning.

"How often do you floss Joe?"

Of course, I don’t floss. That’s the problem. She knows I don’t floss but she asks anyway. And, my trick of flossing the day before I come into the dentist’s office never seems to fool anyone.

"Uh, not very often."

"That’s ok" she said. "Just floss the teeth you want to keep."

Well if you put it that way…

Don’t ask me why, but that line, "just floss the teeth you want to keep", got me thinking about goal-setting inside companies.

Goal-setting is everywhere. Everyone knows it’s the right thing to do. I’ve got to focus. I’ve got to have goals and objectives. I’ve got to communicate these goals and objectives to those around me. We’ve got to get on that proverbial "same page" and goals are the way.

Problem is, most goals are never met. Goal setting quickly becomes overhead. It takes time with no rewards. People stop believing that goals are anything more than management requirements that have little effect on day to day behavior.

It may seem obvious, but in my opinion, the root of the problem is that people make two big mistakes around goals:

   * they set soft goals that cannot be measured.
   * if they measure, they measure without reference to competition.

"Just floss the teeth you want to keep."

"Just measure the goals you want to meet."

Soft goals

I see it all the time. "Improve customer support" or "Gain market share."

I always wonder, how do we know if we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.

The cure is to never set a goal you can’t measure. Sounds draconian and simplistic, but it’s the best cure to "squishiness" around. Cultures in companies are really nothing more than a shared set of behvaiors and if you let "squishy" behavior in early through soft goal setting, it’s really hard to stamp out later.

Absolute goals

An ancillary mistake people make is that they set absolute goals as opposed to goals relative to competition.

At Excite, we made this mistake in the IM space. The whole category was exploding and Excite’s IM product (called Excite PAL for those historians out there) was getting a lot of downloads. Of course, it was being outpaced by ICQ and Yahoo Messenger, but we were measuring it’s progress relative to internal targets. We probably knew it wasn’t right, but we were letting our excitement over our internal growth cloud our judgement.

We didn’t feel dumb, we were just acting dumb.

You know what happened?

We explosively grew our way to irrelvence in the IM market.

So, floss your teeth, set measurable goals, measure relative to competition, and be kind to your hygenist. There’s no telling what wisdom she can provide.

52 Comments

  1. Frank says:

    Here are somethings I have learned about goals.
    Give them a due date, give them a reasonable shot at completion, in other words, make them attainable. Lastly; have a way to measure whether or not the goal was met. Too often goals are set without having a measuring tool. I am taking a joist at publishing at etov.com. I knew all about goals, but forgot to set them for myself. I will do it tonight. Sometimes, like flossing, you just forget.

  2. lowercase says:

    flossing and the art of leadership…

    i have honestly never considered a connection between dentists and goal-setting, but there you have it… some very excellent advice. “Just floss the teeth you want to keep.” “Just measure the goals you want to meet.” it’s true….

  3. Doug Stone says:

    OK – So this is more about flossing than goals – maybe but anyway….
    I learned that flossing can cut down on heart disease (infectious material in gums leach into blood stream and weaken the heart). So I really wanted to floss daily.
    Tried almost every conventional flossing aid. Never got into the habit.
    So then I figured out that I like to be in the shower. An extra 4 minutes in the shower is good. So – I put in a mirror, and some floss – now I floss every day.
    As far as goals are concerned – I like to tie them to a long term positive (not just keeping teeth but helping my heart).
    Then I like to figure out how the goal can compliment an already enjoyable activity.
    So – I have a soft goal of limiting my contribution to land fills. Same thing goes. Metal shaving cans over my lifetime would fill a big space.
    Sometimes meeting a goal is more about changing a behavior – so I switched to a shaving brush and soap. Although I don’t track it – clearly I am contributing to the goal on a daily basis.
    Not to mention the extra 10 minutes in the shower shaving. :)

  4. Just floss the teeth you want to keep.

    Joe Kraus comments on His recent trip to the dentist and how he recieved an important lesson on goal setting….

  5. Lynn Cherny says:

    Hey Joe,
    Well, I sure remember PAL. And a couple years ago I was in France doing a competitive evaluation and usability testing for a France Telecom IM product for the phone, and I thought about it again as I went through features on the current biggies out there. Obviously there are books to be written about the IM wars and lessons learned there, but killer features (establishing which ones matter to your adopters), a good understanding of your user populations and what design supports them (first it was kids/teens, then it was young adults, then it was business people too), and probably the integration/interop/desktop issues were all factors in what happened.
    I still wonder what it would have taken to succeed at IM from where we were: Where “succeed” means everything in our internal control (design, stability, feature and manpower investment, etc) but also factors out of our control — marketplace and conglomeration trends that were going on around us, that could have made us marginal despite having a really quality product by all feature and design standards. If there’s an external market war going on that you won’t be able to win, is there a point in investing that work? As an ex-TiVo designer too, I’m dismayed by the arrival of all these discount PVRs. They all claim to be “like TiVo but free,” and anyone in the know knows they are only “like” TiVo in one or 2 respects; but if those are the important ones for the marketplace, or the marketplace is ignorant, it really won’t matter at all. TiVo will be made irrelevant, after virtually creating the product space on its own. It’s the sad side of paradigm-shifting innovation, I suppose. A lot sadder than betamax.

  6. Pontifex says:

    How true! We usually write down goals and forget as we have not set reward for achiveing it or simply because it is not measurable! This post at this hour is a good learning for me.
    Thanks

  7. Goodhart, Heisenberg and the CEO

    Brilliant post from Eric Briys (founder of cyberlibris) on

  8. entrewhat? says:

    Hi Everyone,
    When I was doing personal financial planning work we had to set goals for clients, agree on them, work towards them and re-evaluate if goals were missed.
    Anyways, I picked up this quick acronym. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T.
    That’s: Specific,Measurable,Attainable Realistic and Tangible.
    Have used it ever since. Also, I find people generally respond well to acronyms…make up parodies, have a bit of fun…but really get the point and make it a habbit.
    Regards

  9. MHP says:

    JK, I’m so loving this juncture of yours. So, when you look through site stats and find someone snooping around, don’t get excited. It’s just me.
    I was talking to Schuster today and I mentioned that I’ve been blogging about my inspirations and process in opening a restaurant, he immediately thought of yours. He raved and I see why. So fantastic! I’m instantly inspired (and educated to boot!).
    Visit me soon at my juncture. And, don’t mind me if I borrow a few ideas.
    Minh
    xxxx

  10. mtking says:

    Spectacular posts about persistance and how to sell
    whats the new company you are starting up ?
    I run a pharm company and I have similar issues as well.

  11. Cusumus says:

    Just my five cents…
    Be careful setting measurable goals without balance…you get what you measure.

  12. Ivan Pope says:

    Startup turns Wikis into development platform
    By Matt Hicks – eWeek
    SAN FRANCISCO—The co-founders of early search engine and portal Excite.com are bringing a new concept to the Web: the wiki as an application development platform.
    JotSpot Inc., the brainchild of Joe Kraus and Graham Spencer, was unveiled here on Wednesday during the Web 2.0 conference and began offering invitation-only access to a beta of its hosted wiki.
    Wikis are essentially collaborative Web pages that are open to editing by anyone. They have become increasingly popular in technology circles as a way to manage development projects and create documents.
    But to Kraus, JotSpot’s CEO, wikis increasingly are becoming a platform on which to develop basic Web applications. JotSpot combines more typical wiki functions— collaborative editing, version control, support for attachments and full-text search—with a tool for writing applications and tying together outside data from RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, e-mail and Web pages.

  13. So have you set a goal to measure whether the goals you set are measurable?
    Regarding flossing, the only trick that’s ever worked for me has been to floss with my young daughters. I make them do it and they make me do it.

  14. Matthew Lock says:

    I started flossing daily about 5 years ago and have gone from needing about 1 filling a year before I started, to not needing a single filling for 5 years.

  15. David Locke says:

    The day the company thinks they need a person, say to do x by some date. Then, they have the goal laid out. You find the person to get it done, and you hire that person–end of story.
    The only place that required goals and objectives and alignment was a public company, a defense contractor. A few other places had us playing MS Project games, but demonstrated commitment trumps management by process. The startups I worked for didn’t allow for buracracy, and some hated process. One to the point that finding out what each of us was up to was nearly impossible.
    You made your ship date. That was the job. That was the only job. You might get a bonus if it was impossible and you did it anyway.
    The B-school overlay wasn’t necessary.

  16. Chris says:

    I’m not sure the issue is with setting realistic goals and keeping them forefront as it is the lack of integration between goals and managing the business.
    In my experience, most small businesses – startups or not – don’t have much of a discipline or methodology to running the operation. If this is the case, goal-setting in isolation is a waste of time, money and effort, except to the extent the exercise improves one little part of an operation, or one manager or one team. Worthy of effort, sure – but not going to help bring much overall organizational growth.
    As much as I’m hawking this book lately you’d think I was the author or the publisher – I’m neither, if you’re wondering – but check out The Fast Forward MBA on Business Growth and Planning. I’ve blogged about it a bit at http://blahgkarma.blogspot.com/2005/03/higher-learning.html, but the central idea is that setting and maintaining vision, mission, goals and ACTION PLANS must all be integrated if you’re going to grow the organization without making everyone (including your shareholders) lose their minds.
    The book is only around 200 pages, and cuts right to the chase. I’ve found the approach equally applicable to very large and very small organizations, and it works. Spend $15, check it out and try it – I think you’ll like it.
    Or, my advice is worth what you paid for it (grin).

  17. Ann says:

    The part about setting goals that are measurable reminds me of a very interesting woman named Temple Grandin, who’s autistic and is an expert at designing cattle chutes. I heard an interview about her that included a top executive at McDonalds, talking about how she convinced McDonalds to favor meat suppliers that treated their cattle more humanely.
    The McDonalds executive said that people for years had been coming in and telling them that the cattle should be treated more nicely. The problem was that McDonalds didn’t know what to do with this goal – be “nice” to the cattle as you kill them.
    Temple Grandin made a difference largely because, instead of offering vague, emotional appeals, she explained the objective criteria that she would use to rank different slaughterhouses, giving McDonalds a realistic way of implementing this goal.

  18. When setting your goals, keep the overhead of planing etc to a absolut minimum, otherwise you plan to much more than acutally working on your goals.

  19. web page says:

    An affordable dental insurance or are heating repair covered by Medicaid.
    The next time you visit your dentist every now and then can be a part of
    cosmetic dentistry.

  20. Learn More says:

    The medical terms of repairing isn’t easy. The right equipments and there’s always need of professional doctors. Your dentist was quite good.

  21. Well, such tiny things may give birth to such great thoughts =)

    Your post is genuous in a way that it either attracts comments on flossing, or goal setting.

    As for the 1st one, I never thought that flossing is a way to keep teeth. Will jot it down.

    As for the goals – yes non-mesurable goals are quite strange. How do you know that you achieved your goal, if you cannot measure it (including seeing, hearing, feeling).

    Measuring is just one of the ways to set the connection between your conscious and sub-conscious that eventually helps to release resources needed exactly for achieving the goal.

  22. Hello, all is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s
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  23. Jakie T says:

    OMG, I had to switch to a new hygienist recently because I always felt like my parents would be mad when she talked to them at the end of the appointment. Thanks for the read

  24. A Girl says:

    I’m training to be a dentist so thanks for this article. Has anyone every tried oil pulling and got good results?

  25. informed says:

    Ha! I’ve been to a dentist’s office probably twice in my life. One of the people I really don’t ever want to see lol…and my proctologist hahaha (I’m only 30, so I’m still good there)

    Great info Joe!

  26. Adam says:

    Flossing what a lost art. Thanks for the read.

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  28. Jason F says:

    It’s all about management and setting goals. Set realistic goals and follow a plan and you will be successful. Work hard and stay motivated, success will come.

  29. Watchief says:

    I’m visiting my dentist regularly, at least 3 times a year, but when it comes to flossing, I’m afraid I have the same problem as with some goals I set up for myself: I want to do it, and I do it for some time, but then I just get distracted by other things..I guess persistence is the key, to healthy teeth and to success in life.

  30. Song says:

    Hi there, I could really advice on music during a dentist session, makes it much easier!
    About flossing/im. break the goals in smaller parts. So five small goals make up one bigger one. You might not achieve the bigger one, but with four of the smaller goals you do get that positive feeling and also a lot of stuff done.

  31. This is a great business/startup analogy.
    Thanks for posting.

    I stepped it up another level, meditated like a buddhist.
    Recruited lieutenants with ludicrous
    dreams of gettin cream, “let’s do this,””

  32. jon online says:

    my hands are too big to fit my mouth to floss. then I got one of the social toothbrush extension things and now I can Problem solved

  33. Ray Vellest says:

    I think my teeth have some sort of special quality as they keep on going healthy, even though I never paid too much attention to taking care of them. On the other hand, I’ve struggled with setting goals for the most part of my professional life. It took me a great deal of time and a recent burnout to figure that the most important part of setting goals is to be sure that they are achievable in the first place. Most of us, founders in the startup scene that is, tend to aim at insanely unrealistic targets and most of the time that tend to cause more harm than good. In my own experience, defining an achievable goal is as much important as being able to measure results. In an odd way, I think your dentist was right, only floss the ones you don’t want to lose.

  34. Mark says:

    Hmmm . Flossing. No cavities. That’s my goal in life. Not having to see the dentist ever.

  35. Mo says:

    Excellent article – relating goal setting with dentist experience is perfect.

  36. Mark Trap says:

    I never knew that flossing is a way to keep teeth….

    BTW its so true we many times write down goals and forget about it since we have not set any reward for achieving it. We should be careful in setting measurable goals. Thanks for the wonderful post.

  37. Lire plus says:

    Thank you for the info.
    Relating goal setting with dentist experience is perfect

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  40. Casy says:

    LOL…dentist, flossing to goal setting! Weird way to get their but it all made sense. Great one dude!

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  45. More Info says:

    I remember when I was a child, I wanted to become a dentist. It seemed so easy to learn everything. Then time pass by and I probably forgot. Instead I started my own business in online marketing, which is great as well!

  46. Will Blears says:

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    Thanks for the share, and the entertainment.

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  48. Berat badan says:

    Set the goal and keep fight. Never give up :D

  49. rea says:

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    just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad iss now
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  50. Jack says:

    Such a great read — so glad someone sent me the link!

    –J

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