Be Exponentially Better, Not Incrementally

It’s Easier To Make Something 10 Times Better Than To Make Something 10% Better

– Astro Teller, head of Google X
The size of the goal helps to determine the outcome.My students who struggle the most start 30-60 points away from their target score. It seems so close. But the brutal truth is that most won’t make it. In the hordes of students I watched go through the GMAT prep process while at MGMAT, it the students in the mid 600s who were least likely to be successful on their own.

It wasn’t that they had tapped out of intellectual power. It wasn’t even that admissions tests are too tricky to navigate. If that were the case my 470/480 students wouldn’t regularly land at 720.

So how is it a student in the bottom 30th percentile can rise to the 95th percentile, but the 85th percentile student rarely does?

Expected effort.

If you think you’re close to your target, you back off. You almost can’t imagine you won’t make it so you do the toil the way you’ve done in the past. After all, you’re only 30, 40 points away. “It was probably just 1-2 more questions right.”

Hmm, no, probably not.

Failing that close the the finish line is often tied to poor processing and high intellect. In other words smart pants, you are very capable intellectually, but you actually stink at problem solving. You didn’t really focus on critical thinking growing up. You focused on getting good grades. That A+ you landed in Calculus was from rote machine learning. You didn’t really understand, you endured, and now you can’t be creative with problem paths because you don’t have the flexibility. Worse . . . you think you are great at problem solving because you earned decent grades all along or you’re teachers told you were smart if you’d bother to do the homework – so now you’re stubborn (and possibly arrogant).

Students ridiculously, hopelessly far from their goals are more likely to rise to the challenge when presented with the right tools. This is my experience. And it’s backed by science.

According to Shane Snow, best selling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, research shows when you set bolder, more audacious goals you work harder than when you’re reasonable.

Subconsciously, we actually push ourselves harder when we’re going after bigger, loftier, harder goals. Research shows people who set higher goals end up outperforming their peers or themselves because they push themselves harder or because they force themselves to find more creative, alternative, unconventional solutions to problems.

When you have a bold goal, you behave differently. You prioritize different activities. You accept the wisdom of outsiders and most importantly, you experiment. You open yourself up for the opportunity to learn in new/different/unexpected ways.

Who wants a few points better, aim for ridiculously great. Get all the best out of you! Someone else can whine about that 30 points today.

Thanks to Eric Barker for the inspiration for this post. He’s got a great newsletter, check him out.

Image courtesy of Robin Benad