How can we be sure our efforts will lead to goal achievement?
Here’s a unique way one person answered this question, and what we can learn about how to make sure our own efforts result in the goal achievement we hope for.
From Rockets to Darts
Mark Rober is an engineer who used to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For seven years he even worked on the Mars Curiosity rover. (I wrote about his team’s experiences in Book Notes: The Right Kind of Crazy)
He’s a smart, creative guy. One day he was inspired to create a Halloween costume that integrated two iPads to make it look like he had a gaping hole in his torso. The video he made of it went viral.
Since then he left NASA, launched a costume company, sold it, and now among other things hosts a YouTube channel that gives an outlet to his creative and inventive side.
One of his more interesting videos has to do with an automatic bull’s-eye dartboard.
It took him over three years to develop, but he wanted to see if he could make it so that you would always hit the bull’s-eye no matter where you threw the dart. Here’s how he made it happen.
Hitting the Bull’s-Eye
His idea was to set it up so that the dartboard moved to wherever the dart was going to land.
In his garage, Rober suspended a regulation dartboard against a wall using six fishing lines. Each line was attached to a spool driven by a precise electric motor, and the motors were connected to a laptop that could synchronize their actions.
On computer command, the board could be quickly and precisely moved up, down, left and right.
With this arrangement, he could adjust the location of the target. Now he just needed to know where the dart was going so he could adjust the position of the bull’s-eye.
To do this the computer needed to be able to “see” the dart along its flight path. Rober set up six cameras and shined infrared lights at the dart so that it would stand out from the rest of the clutter in the garage. On the dart’s fins he placed tiny retro-reflectors that would bounce the light to special sensors.
With the sensors connected to the computer, he could now determine the precise location of the dart, calculate its expected landing point, and then move the dart board so that the bull’s-eye was in that exact location.
Sounds simple, right? Here’s what it looks like in action.
Automatic Dartboard in Action
Hitting our Own Targets
Rober’s invention allowed him to hit his target every time. Pretty cool, but how does that relate to goal achievement?
Of course I’m not suggesting that to be successful we should just keep moving the target around until it happens to match what we are already doing. What would the point of that be?
Yet we can still look at Rober’s approach to the automatic bull’s-eye to help us become more accurate in hitting our own targets.
Here are three things we can take from his invention to help us along our own goal achievement trajectory.
Be clear about the goal. Rober was clear about trying to hit the bull’s-eye every time while throwing from regulation distance.
Our own goals have to be just as clear. One good way to do that is to use the SMART Goal formula to describe what it is that we want to do.
I’m also a fan of writing that goal down. Think of that act as signing a contract with yourself. Then, like a dart board in front of you, put it someplace where you can see it every day to keep it front of mind.
Track progress. Rober had six cameras, an infrared lighting system, and reflector-equipped darts so his computer system could see and track the dart along its trajectory from launch point to bull’s-eye.
In the same way we need to be able to see exactly where we are along our own goal achievement trajectory. When we have an objective way to measure where we started, how far we’ve progressed, and what remains to be done, it takes the guesswork and emotion out of the effort.
Whether it’s wigits produced, weight lost, or wealth amassed, find a way to measure progress so you know if you are moving in the right direction. It can also be really helpful to make a chart or graph to see your progress and motivate you to keep going.
Make adjustments. The automatic bull’s-eye system was designed to make between 10 and 100 micro-adjustments during the dart’s flight. One setting was not sufficient to ensure complete success.
We also need to be ready to adjust if the direction we are headed isn’t taking us where we want to go. Whether it’s modifying our technique, learning a new skill, investing more time, or getting help from others (like a coach), if we want to hit the target, we have to constantly make adjustments along the way.
Goal Achievement – The Takeaway
It took three years and a lot of effort but Mark Rober ultimately succeeded in building his automatic bull’s-eye dart board. To make it work, he invested a lot of time and energy into setting up a framework to ensure the dart would hit the target every time.
In the same way, if we want to succeed with our own goals, we have to invest in a similar framework that keeps us on track and moving in the right direction.
I’ve built an online goal achievement course that can help you do the same thing. It doesn’t involve electric motors or infrared lights, but if you are willing to put in a little work, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.
If we really want to accomplish something worthwhile, we can’t move the target, but there are many things we can do to help make sure that we hit the goal we are aiming for.
When we start with a crystal clear objective, track our progress accurately and objectively, and adjust our efforts to stay on course, like Mark Rober’s darts, we can hit the bull’s-eye every time.
The key is in the framework we set up to make that happen.