Goal Versus System Oriented People

Last week I read an interesting article from Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic, about How To Be Successful. He exposes two different kind of people, goal oriented and system oriented, and makes the case as to why the latter is the best option.

Putting aside whether being system oriented is better or not, the article struck a chord with me. The difference between goal oriented and system oriented can be easily resume using a weight loss example:

  • Your goal is to loose 10kg in 6 months: you achieve it, celebrate by going to the restaurant, gain back 1kg after a day. You start playing Yo-yo.
  • Your system is to eat healthy and in reasonable quantity: it takes much longer to loose the weight but you will loose it in time. You will stay slim and have a much healthier diet in the long term.

The second point makes definitely more sense to me than the first. It is however more difficult to start a system has it involves a mindset. When it fits your personality it is easy to get into but needs a lot of motivation and introspection in the other case. A system is also much less rewarding in the short term (can even be the opposite at first).

I faced that problem more than once trying to get into sports. Ironically, my goal was to set up a system but it failed as I couldn’t change my mindset.
On the opposite end, I’m naturally using systems for some aspects of my life where I would consider myself successful.

I also noticed how some people will create a system to reach a long term goal (eg: earn X amount of money and retire) but then suffer the same problem as Mr. Adams describes for goal oriented people (eg: depression because the best years of life are gone). Thus a system in response to a goal is almost as bad as no system at all.

I think people will rely on goals in areas where they’re not comfortable/good whereas naturally use a system in areas where they perform well (thus not noticing the system). I don’t think most successful people consciously created their system but the system created itself naturally as a result of their mindset.

To end, I would argue that it is not the fact that they are system oriented that make people more successful but that their mindset fits well with the task at end, the system being a by-product of this good fit.

Now, you could use a system to change your mindset…

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