Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goal

Goals are made to enrich our lives, and setting the right goals can lead to a more fulfilling life. This inspiring TED talk by John Doerr explains the importance of setting the right goals for the right reasons utilizing the “Objectives and Key Results” or OKRs method.

The secret to success is setting the right goal because the right goals have meaning and purpose to inspire. Focusing on the bigger picture of what really matters behind a goal fuels the motivation and reasoning to keep pursuing the goal.

You can watch the TED talk below and/or read on for the key notes and answers to important questions mentioned in the video.

Why are our leaders, and some of the great institutions failing us? In some cases, they are bad and unethical, but most often they’ve taken us to the wrong objective.

How do we correct these wrongs, how do we choose the right course, and what will really make a difference? The answer is how and why they set the right goals for the right reasons.

In 1975, Doerr worked as a computer engineer under Andy Grove who was considered the greatest manager of his and any other era. Grove invented the “Objectives and Key Results” or OKRs Method.

“It almost doesn’t matter what you know, execution is what matters the most”

Andy Grove

What is the Objectives and Key Results Method, or OKRs? OKRs is a simple goal-setting system invented by Andy Grove that is all about excellent execution.

Who can OKRs work for? Organizations, Teams, and Individuals

Objectives are What you want to have accomplished. They are the direction.

Key Results are How you’re going to get it done.

“Many of us are setting goals wrong, and most of us are not setting goals at all”

What are the wrong goals? The wrong goals lack a sense of purpose to inspire their teams. Organizations set objectives and meet them, they ship their sales, introduce new products, make their numbers, etc. but it’s lacking meaning behind the goal to keep people going. Essentially it will feel like a dull checklist.

How do you set goals the right way? You must first answer your WHY.

“Truly transformational teams combine their ambitions to their passions and to their purpose”

Doerr uses Jini Kim as an example of a person having a powerful WHY. Kim ran Nuna Healthcare, which had only 15 employees at the time and a tight deadline to be built within a year knowing not much money was going to be made, but she took on the task anyways. Kim has a younger brother with autism who had a seizure and fell to the ground and stopped breathing one time when they were at Disneyland. Kim’s parents are Korean immigrants with limited resources and didn’t know how to speak much English. As a 9-year-old child, Kim had to enroll her family in Medicaid.

“Medicaid saved my family from bankruptcy, and today it provides for Kimong’s health and for millions of others. Nuna is my love letter to Medicaid. Every row is a data of life whose story deserves to be told with dignity.”

Jini Kim

Kim’s story is a compelling story of your WHY becoming your launchpad for your objectives.

What makes an objective good? They are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational.

Doerr’s next example is someone unexpected that uses the OKRs method, Bono. Bono is a rockstar who uses this method to wage a global war against poverty and disease. He’s worked on two objectives, Debt cancellation and Universal access to anti-HIV drugs.

“What actions does your passion lead you to do? If the heart doesn’t find the perfect rhyme with the head, then your passions mean nothing. The OKR framework cultivates the madness, the chemistry contained inside it, it gives us an environment for risk, for trust, where failing is not a fireable offense, and when you have that sort of structure and environment and the right people, magic is around the corner.”


What makes key results good? They are specific and time bound, aggressive yet realistic, measurable and verifiable.

In 1999, Doerr introduced OKRs to Google cofounders, Larry and Sergey, who at the time were 24 years old and working from their garage. They quickly accepted the method since they didn’t have any other method of running the company. However, ever since then, every Googler has written down their objectives and key results every quarter. These OKRs get graded and published for everyone to see for no other purpose then to get collective commitment to stretch goals.

In 2008, a Googler, Sundar Pichai took on the objective to build the next generation client platform for the future of web applications, a.k.a. the best browser. He had the right objective to measure the number of users and focused on key results year after year.

  • Year 1 – Goal: 20 million users – Actual: less than 10 million users
  • Year 2 – Goal: 50 million users – Actual: 37 million users
  • Year 3 – Goal: 100 million users – Actual: 111 million users

This is a great example of someone carefully choosing the right objectives and sticking to it year after year and never giving up.

Doerr says to think of OKRs as transparent vessels that are made from the whats and the hows of our ambition, and what really matters is the whys that we pour into those vessels. It’s the reason we do our work.

Where can you apply the OKR method? The OKR method can go beyond businesses and be applied to families, schools, and even governments.

My Takeaways

My favorite part was from Andy Grove, I interpreted as, you can have all the great ideas, or not, and you may not know everything right now, but the most important step is starting – the execution. After that, did you complete it, a simple yes or no. We overthink so much before we want to start something, and we always forget the most important step… to actually start.

Then once we start, how do we keep the momentum going? By focusing on the value and meaning behind what we do. It’s easier to work for a company that focuses on making an impact and adding value, rather than working for a company that is only obsessed with reaching numbers.

I know success is different for everybody, and I know people think success can look a certain way, but true success will FEEL a certain way.

Hong Singer

I'm the creator of Ambition Forward. I keep things simple by focusing on the goal and being consistent in my actions to get the results I want, and I'm here to help you do the same. I encourage you to look for the things that bring you joy and go for it!

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