Stepping Stones To Success
Stepping Stones To Success

Stepping Stones To Success

Quick Summary

The Goal Model Is Powerful

The goal model is so obvious in our culture, it goes without saying. If you want to accomplish anything really big, you should:

  1. Set the goal and work backwards from long-term goals to medium-term goals to short-term goals to today’s to-do list.
  2. Then take action, measure your progress and constantly course-correct so you’re always on the most direct path toward your ultimate goal.

Goals give motivation, meaning, and focus when we feel lazy or distracted.

But The Goal Model Has Downsides

Indeed, the goal model is extremely powerful, but like all models, it can be counterproductive when we apply it to the wrong situation.

Recent research from the field of artificial intelligence makes the case that the goal model is effective when the steps between where you are now and where you want to go are clear.

However, when the steps between where you are now and where you want to go are numerous and unclear, the researchers make the case that goals are often OBSTACLES to LARGE feats of innovation rather than enablers.


Introducing The Stepping Stones To Success Model

Cross the river by feeling for stones.—Deng Xiaoping

To accomplish something big, you do NOT set ambitious goals and then work backwards.

Rather, you can follow the stepping stones right in front of you that give you the most novel paths forward, even if you aren’t sure exactly how that stepping stone will pay off in the future. Then, from that new stepping stone, you look for the most novel path forward again. And so on.


Novelty may sound overly simplistic, but it is actually incredibly powerful:

  1. Novelty is a great shortcut for detecting great stepping stones. As you pursue novelty, it gets harder and harder to find. This difficulty forces you to adopt new and more complex ways of thinking in order to find novelty. This more complex thinking leads to breakthroughs.
  2. Humans are uniquely good at perceiving novelty. Humans have an almost magical ability to detect interestingness. We don’t need logic and analysis to detect that something is fascinating to us.
  3. Humans are wired to love and be motivated by curiosity. To be motivated, we do NOT need huge goals. Curiosity is an innate and incredibly powerful drive. And, it can be cultivated.

The Curiosity Filter: Apply The Stepping Stones Model

Many of us, especially the most ambitious, have a goal filter that we take through life. When we come across books, people, and opportunities, we ask ourselves whether it will help us accomplish our goals.


As an experiment, try adding a curiosity filter. When you come across books, people, or opportunities, ask yourself:

Am I so fascinated by this that I’d be willing to spend serious effort learning more?

If the answer is NOT hell yeah, then let it go. If it is hell yeah, then make time for it within your schedule. Use the level of your fascination as a compass.


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