THE BLOG
04/07/2014 08:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2014

Goals Are Like Jazz Music

He who fails to plan is planning to fail. Winston Churchill

Jazz music was the backdrop of my upbringing. The central meeting place of my childhood home was our family room. The family room would be more appropriately described as the music room and I can still feel the red shag carpet under my feet and the drum sticks in my hands as I look around at posters of Miles Davis, Buddy Rich  and Ella Fitzgerald.

My parents had every vinyl record of every jazz great known to man. This incredible music was playing constantly in our home and became the fabric of my life. Recently my brother in law (not a jazz buff) said to me, "How can you like this music,  it just sounds like they are warming up?" He fails to appreciate the spontaneity and vitality of musical production in which improvisation plays a role. Whether you love this music as I do or not, it could be considered a metaphor for how to approach goal setting. Let me explain.

When setting goals you have to be able to adapt and adjust along the way. You might have a certain goal, but you don't want to be so attached to a given outcome that you can't change, adapt and iterate along the way to achieve what you really want to achieve. Sometimes in life, things don't always happen as expected and you have to be able to adjust your goals accordingly. These adjustments are made in the framework of your values and passions. Just like in jazz music where the music flows and changes within the framework of the key and the tempo.

Maybe you end up doing something that moves you closer to your potential that is not what you originally planned. Makes me think of what Dwight D. Eisenhower said about planning the invasion of Normandy during the 2nd World War, "the plan was useless but the planning was invaluable." Although our path to goal achieving might need to be changed, there is still value in taking the time to plan. There is infinite value in establishing our goal and honing in on our target.

One of the reasons planning and the goal setting is so important is that it will stimulate the Reticular Activating System (RAS) in your brain. This system acts as a filter. It is the reason that if you buy a green Ford Focus everywhere you look you see green Ford Focus's. It is not that everyone bought the same car you did, it is that your RAS is stimulated to notice this vehicle. Writing your goals down works the same way. By inking them on paper you begin to notice ways in which you can achieve the goals you are focused on.

When goal planning and setting, it's important that you have the construct of what you want to be able to achieve. Then within that construct you may improvise, change, adapt and alter the way you get to your end goal. Although the way you achieve your goals may change, planning will still help you to achieve so much more than if you never put your goals down in ink.

Likewise, a key part of being a jazz musician is the ability to improvise and adapt along the way. But if you didn't have the construct of the general key that you're supposed to be playing in and the beat that is laid down by the bassist or the drummer, it would just sound like a bunch of noise. A jazz musician can only sound great by playing within the rules of Jazz. You will reach your goals more effectively by setting down a solid plan and being open to improvising how that plan unfolds.