Everyone knows the benefits of goal setting. However, many of the greatest developments in your business will not be the result of careful planning, but of fortuitous discoveries, meetings and accidents. This is serendipity: the apparent aptitude some people have to make fortunate discoveries accidentally. These events trigger quantum leaps precisely because they are not the result of incremental thinking.

Serendipity is when someone at a networking event tells you of a new market or another industry's technology that could apply to your own. Serendipity is rarely accidental; it is the natural result of deciding to always look for opportunity.

Goal setting reduces serendipity for several reasons: 1. A well-written goal has a predetermined outcome. We can only create goals for what we are already aware of.
2. The focus is on a specific action plan. Concentrating on that plan makes it possible that we'll miss opportunities laying right beside us.
3. A goals program leads to inflexibility when a goal takes on a life of its own, as HAL 9000 did. A good goal builds commitment to achieving its result. The danger is in committing to the goal regardless of circumstances. Sunk costs or time invested impair our ability to impartially assess the value of the goal versus other possible goals.

Goal setting is a very powerful tool, but it still is only a tool. Don't make more of it than it is. I am master of my goals. They serve me. I am free at any time to change my goals to reflect what I currently think is best for me or my business. The issue is not whether you choose goal setting or opportunity scanning; do both. Here's how they work together.

?Realize you are in the business of finding opportunity and taking advantage of it.
?Strategic thinking is not an annual event - at your level, do it every day.
?Actively seek out opportunity daily.
?Give employees the freedom, within appropriate limits, to look to the left and to the right. Leading innovators allocate resources to "skunkworks" - people who spend part or all of their time developing ideas without any red tape.
?You and your employees should be thinking "what if?, "how could?, "why couldn't we?" and other mind-expanding questions.
?Scan newspapers, magazines, journals and the Net for ideas. Subscribe to journals you don't normally read or visit the library monthly to review them.
?Talk to your suppliers and customers to discover their views on the future.
?Talk to people who aren't like you. (We gravitate toward people who are just like ourselves, who don't challenge us enough).
?Challenge your concept of your business. You may be defining it too narrowly.
?Set goals for desired opportunities and improvements.
?Think of your goals program as the "auto-pilot" for your business. Barring new information, those are the goals you will achieve. However, new opportunity may cause you to take your goals program off "auto-pilot" and reset it for another heading.

Goal setting is a great tool, but that's all it is. Never let it get in the way of uncovering new opportunity that may be more valuable to you.

Author's Bio: 

John Pellowe is President of Canadian Leadership Corporation. He specializes in helping business leaders align corporate strategy, culture and leadership teams for maximum results.