How to Reach Your Goals: Focusing on Intention vs Measuring Effect

Do you measure your success by the amount of effort you put into it, or the outcome? Will your legacy be: “Gee, she tried to accomplish these goals, but these three things got in her way,” or “She accomplished so much, here is what we learned from her.”

Today, I want to talk about the value of focusing on the EFFECT of your work, and how to begin considering how to measure that.


Process vs Outcome

This is a phrase you see over-used on so many resumes: “Results-driven.” What this is meant to convey is that you won’t be someone full of excuses. That we all face challenges in the process of reaching our goals, but you won’t be the person who will spend your time telling your boss about the many reasons why you couldn’t reach your goals. That excuses aren’t good enough for you.

I am a HUGE believe in the value of process. I was an artist for much of my life, I married an artist, and have always been lucky to have many creative friends. Process is critical in creating true art – something that breaks boundaries, that builds a body of work full of meaning. Sometimes it takes years to go through that process.

But the key is: do you come out the other side? I know many folks who were artists or musicians or writers years ago, who today are accountants, managers, administrators today in other fields. They no longer create art, music or writing. It is an identity they gave up a long time ago, but also an activity they let go of as well. They reflect fondly about how they were these things a decade or two ago, but no longer.

For some, their lives and interests changed. For others, the process never lead to an outcome they dreamed of. They never connected their process for creation with the dream they hoped to achieve.

Yes: there is TONS of value in the process alone. The experience of creating art can help one evolve their life, work through issues, etc. And that in and of itself, is awesome.

But if you want more than that; to not spend your future talking about how your writing career never panned out; to not talk about how you intended to make a professional leap, but didn’t; to not be focused on the challenges that stopped you, but how you moved past them; then focusing on measuring and accomplishing outcomes needs to be addressed.


Milestones & Measurement

How you measure progress before you reach your goal is critical. Few people go from being a nobody to total success in one single step. As an outsider, it may seem that way, but the reality is that you simply never noticed that person as they struggled towards their goals. You only noticed them when the succeeded.

Create milestones that lead up to your end goal. Specific thresholds that you focus on reaching that, when strung together, bring you to your end goal.

The idea here is to break down the larger goal into smaller more easily achievable steps. Measuring each of these steps gives you insight as to whether you are on the right path or not. When you are working hard towards a goal, it can be easy to get disoriented and miss the big picture. Maybe you feel as though you have made no progress, or not understand how much progress has been achieved. Or maybe it’s the opposite: you feel you are doing AWESOME, only to find out when you look critically at your effect, that you haven’t made the progress you hoped. EG: a business that people talk about, but don’t buy anything from. That you haven’t made any measurable progress towards your goals, you are just spinning your wheels. That maybe you didn’t know how to translate all that awesome stuff you do into truly building a business or career.

Consider what measures you will use to show accomplishment of goals beyond just launching a project, website, career move, or any other goal. There is a huge difference between someone saying: “I want to start a coaching business, my goal is to launch the website by March 1st,” versus someone saying: “I want to start a coaching business, and want 3 new clients to sign up via my website by April 1st.” One shows intention alone, another the measure of their effect. In the second example, it will be clear to measure success or failure to reach that goal, and they can easily create milestones to help ensure they get those 3 clients.

I work with a lot of writers, and often see them focused on the wrong “goal.” Merely “getting published” is not a goal, but a milestone. The goal should be something that shows your effect and builds your legacy: “I want to sell 3,000 books; I want to build a following of 1,000 fans; I want to help 500 people feel better about their lives.” These are specific, measurable, but mostly: these are goals that matter. And these are goals that will make an impact and build your legacy.


Return on Investment & Iteration

Another example of focusing on effects not the intentions: so if I am going to a job interview, the goal is not to “dress professionally, bring resumes, talk slowly and clearly…” the goal is “impress the hiring manager, get the job!” Think of the effect you want to have in others and how that will be measured. Yes, those other tactics are necessary. But they are merely one part of a larger process.

Focusing on goals and not intentions allows you to adapt quickly as needed. You aren’t following a rote process in that interview, you are adjusting based on new information, on the personality or requirements of the interviewer.

Intentions are filled with excuses. “I would have gotten the job if only I hadn’t stumbled on that answer,” or “I would have gotten that job if only I were five years younger.” But focusing on goals – you find a way.

We all have limited resources. I see people work long hours, juggling multiple functions in their jobs that used to be handled by two or three people in the past. Our challenge is no longer to do more, but to have a higher return on investment from our resources and processes. When you focus more on the goal, and not the intention, you are more likely to learn, evolve, and iterate your way. This, instead of being entrenched in a single mindset, a single task, trying to prove that a single idea will work. That you can get trapped in process because you don’t see the forest for the trees.

This is not to devalue process. But I have seen people focus SO MUCH on process, that it justifies any result. If things didn’t pan out, there is almost no measurement. You will hear them say: “Oh well, I did my best. Time to move on.”

If this is your hobby, that’s fine, you can afford to fail. But if this has to feed your family, or if this is the ONLY way you will achieve a lifelong dream, then this is much more serious. Failure is not an option.

And perhaps that is the first question in this process. Whatever your goal: is this a hobby or is this something you NEED to accomplish in order to build your legacy? In order to feel as though you have left your mark on the world.

If I can help you do that, please feel free to reach out.


973-981-8881 | | @DanBlank

Announcing A New Online Course: “Digital Content Strategy” (Partnering With Mediabistro!)

I’m excited to announce that I will be teaching for Mediabistro! Starting in late February, I will teach a 4-week online course: DIGITAL CONTENT STRATEGY. A brief description:

“An effective content strategist is part editor, part marketer, part business analyst. With knowledge of the principles of content strategy, you can adeptly use audience data to drive creative decisions and build a revenue model that sustains a digital media business. ”

“This course will help you define and expand your audience by creating a roadmap for your editorial content that integrates with larger business goals. This strategy will consider brand identity, audience habits, cultural trends, and revenue initiatives.”

Registration is $350. Full details can be found here.

I’m thrilled to be working with Mediabistro, and expanding the number of online courses I am teaching. I also teach two courses for Writer’s Digest (Blogging 101 and Social Media 101), as well as Build Your Author Platform through this site.

I have added a few more speaking events to the 2012 calendar. Here is where I will be this year:

More is in the works, I feel so fortunate to work with so many wonderful individuals and organizations.




Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

I spent the weekend at an incredible event: Social Media Weekend, at the Columbia School of Journalism. Hosted by Sree Sreenivasan, I was fortunate enough to be able to assist in the planning, serving as a “social media doctor,” and moderating the panel with Mashable.

The event ran from Friday evening to Sunday, with an incredible cast of those in journalism who are leveraging social media in powerful ways. Okay, let’s dig into the photos:

The ever-bucolic Columbia University. Clearly, dealing with a red balloon infestation:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The Columbia School of Journalism. Jefferson guards the doors:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

At the sign-up table, you are required to put your Twitter handle on your badge:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Our host, Dean of Student Affairs & Professor Sree Sreenivasan:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Ernest R. Sotomayor Assistant Dean/Career Services & Continuing Education at Columbia Journalism School sets the stage:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Attendees at the event came from more than 50 cities and 12 countries:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

It’s hard to underestimate the power of a white board. Throughout the weekend, Twitter handles from speakers were thrown up here, which made it super-easy to Tweet:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Tweets flew by on screen, the latest updates to the event hashtag #smwknd
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Sree kept checking in on a site called Hashtracking, which told us the reach of all the Tweets coming out of the event:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The audience, taking notes and Tweeting away…
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The keynote for Friday was delivered by Fred Wilson, venture capitalist who writes the influential blog and has invested in many of the biggest social media companies.
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

*insert words of wisdom here*
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The audience oohs and ahhs…
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Fred explains how he uses Twitter to engage with his community:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Explaining how he feels social media is changing:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Q&A time. This journalism asked Fred how journalists can remain financially viable in a world where non-professionals will work for free:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The crowd seeking wisdom, and perhaps some venture capital:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The Friday night mixer, food and drinks provided by Facebook:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Vadim Lavrusik of Facebook talks about journalism and Facebook:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Some good tips on what engages:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

An interesting timeline of the evolution of Facebook as a platform. Farm animals, it seems, are to blame:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The Saturday session. Here Dorian Benkoil takes us through the ROI of Social Media for Business:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Dorian talking about ROI:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

I believe this was the new social media tools panel:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The halls were indeed packed:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Here, Google ran a Google Hangout with 10 journalists from around the world. The guy on the screen is the Googler in charge of a bunch of products, including Google+
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

I really loved capturing this moment of Sree and Ernesto taking a stroll down the hall to discuss the event so far:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

An incredible bonus was that professional photographers were on hand to snap FREE headshots that all attendees could use as their social media profile images:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

They also had “social media doctors,” of which I was one. Basically, if you needed advice on your usage of social media, experts were on hand to give personal advice:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

The doctors at work:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Me working with an attendee on her social media presence:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

I was so impressed to see Mashable’s Meghan Peters and GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram serve as social media doctors:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

It was cool to see Craig Kanalley, Social Media Editor at NBC News Tweeting away:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Me moderating the session: “Mashable’s Secrets” with Meghan Peters and Christina Warren:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

Questions for Meghan and Christina after the session:
Social Media Weekend at Columbia School of Journalism

All in all, an incredible weekend. I could not attend the Saturday party at Foursquare headquarters, or the Sunday sessions. Coming off of 9 days at 3 conferences, I needed some quality family time.


Upcoming Speaking Events

In the next week, I am excited to be a part of three major events for writers and publishers:

  • Writer’s Digest Conference – I am presenting this session: “Becoming an Author Entrepreneur: The Business of Being a Writer and Building Your Platform” and on the “Hardcore Author Marketing – What to Do to Rise Above in the Digital Age” panel.
  • Digital Book World – I am running a 3-hour workshop titled “Measuring Content Strategy ROI: What, Why and How to Present It”
  • Columbia School of Journalism Social Media Weekend – I am participating as a “social media doctor,” and moderating a panel with employees from Mashable titled: “Mashable’s Secrets: What we can learn from one of the largest online news communities.”

Other upcoming speaking events include:

So excited for these events, and will likely speak at other events for publishers and writers.




Gumption Needs To Be Taught In School

Are you stuck somewhere? A job. A relationship. A funk in your life that feels like you are askew – living for obligation, not for who you really are, or dreamed of being. Most people feel that way sometimes.

There is a skill for getting out of those ruts. It goes by lots of names, but I like to call it gumption. Here is the definition:



I think a lot about what we learn – as a culture, as individuals – from the recession. I know, we are supposed to wait for companies to create jobs, and Wall Street to solve the mess they created. But somehow, that feels unsatisfactory to me.

That seems, to me, like we are a culture waiting for others to set things straight. To make it right. That our own role in this mess is entirely dependent on others getting us out. I suppose what I am getting at is this: we need more gumption. We need for each of us to turn that gumption knob on the faucet on ALL THE WAY, until it is pouring out. And we need turn off our TVs long enough to encourage our neighbors to turn their gumption knobs on all the way too.

But that’s not enough.

Gumption needs to be taught in school. It needs to start early. Okay, we can use a more formal name: entrepreneurship needs to be taught in school.

So what would this look like? What are the skills inherent in gumption -er- entrepreneurship?

We need to teach how to take action, even when there are risks. Why? Because too many people are trapped in lives they are unhappy with, but frozen with inaction due to their fear of the “risk.”

We need to teach personal responsibility, not as a negative, but a positive. To push the red shiny button that says “IGNITION,” and take full responsibility for what happens next.

We need to teach how to find new paths, not just how the existing system already works.

We need to teach how to turn an idea into a reality.

We need to teach debate and public speaking.

We need to teach how to communicate with others, even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.

We need to teach negotiation.

We need to teach how to listen, how to care, what empathy is and how it can lead to action.

We need to teach how to have strong beliefs, and respect others who have strong – but opposite – beliefs as yours.

We need to teach skills that will form the backbone of a fruitful personal and professional life. One where we contribute to a community, not just have a job.

We need to teach beyond theory. Beyond spending 21 years planning for a life, emerging with a wonderful body of knowledge, but few real accomplishments beyond grades.

We assume many of the things listed above are taught in school as a byproduct of other activities. That gumption is taught by having kids cram for a test. I think something is lost there. Too much is assumed. Key issues are not addressed.

Then we measure by grades – oftentimes arbitrary measures of short-term memory. We teach to the test and kids spend all night cramming for it. We teach: win/lose – pass/fail – right/wrong – in a world where everything is a mixture of both.

Where is the only place that gumption is ever really focused on directly in school? Sports. That is where they teach you teamwork, how to deal with interpersonal issues, assessing competitors, moving past goals, the value of practice but the need for execution, ability vs passion, and so much else.

But you know what? I was never all that into sports. I appreciate them for the reasons I mentioned above, and I like how they can be used as a metaphor. But I know a lot of people who could care less about sports. And for those who I know who DO care about sports, some of the positive attributes listed above are lost on them. It’s all about the adrenaline rush of the win. Sports are a wonderful petri dish of the “thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.” But I wish the wonderful lessons of sports were taught more directly elsewhere.

I will leave you today with one of my all-time favorite TED talks, this one by Nigel Marsh on the topic of work/life balance. The story at the very end is simple, yet profound. His message:

“With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships, the quality of your life, and the quality of society.”

Here’s the video:

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank |