The Power of a Simple Goal

When Joe Mokwa became Chief of Police for St. Louis in 2001, he had a big problem on his hands. Since 1962, St. Louis had been plagued by an average of 145 homicides a year.

How did Mokwa handle it? He made it his goal to get the number below 100. And he transmitted that monumental challenge to the head of the homicide unit by writing the number “99” on a piece of paper and handing it to him. The message was simple but clear. And the following year, the toll plunged to 69.

As this example illustrates, you don’t have to make a goal less ambitious to get it accomplished. Sometimes, all you have to do is make it simpler.

Prior to Chief Mokwa’s simple challenge, a dozen efforts had been made over a period of 20 years to lower the city’s homicide rate. But by forgetting about who was going to do what and how each step would be accomplished — by allowing the homicide unit to figure all that out — Mokwa did what nobody else was able to do.

That’s one reason simple goals are so powerful. Instead of attempting to sort out all the details at the outset, you break through inertia by deciding on what you want to accomplish and immediately start working on it. Ready. Fire. Aim. You handle the details as the need arises.

Another reason simple goals are so powerful is that they are easy to understand — for you and anyone else involved in their execution. Simple goals make decision-making easy. You need only ask yourself, “Which choice is more likely to get me closer to my objective?” Nine times out of 10, this will give you the right answer.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]