Want to innovate? Change your goals!


The same goes for the goals you’ve set up for your team, organization, and even yourself. In a brilliant study on the cognitive limits of creativity and innovation published in Harvard Business Review, Dr. McCaffrey shows hat how a goal is phrased often narrows people’s thinking—and ability to innovate.

 In most cases, a goal is phrased in a linear way using a verb, noun, and preposition: “Grow our branch’s market share in Canada,” “Increase sales in the third trimester,” “Reduce vibration in a vehicle component,” or “Limit loss in a production line.” Each of these statements is an example of a goal. No matter your department or specialty, you probably need to meet one or multiple goals—even as you’re reading this. And if you’re a manager, your job is to create those goals. What if a simple rephrasing of goals was able to take your team in whole new directions?


In his study, Dr. McCaffrey looked at the following statement: reduce concussions in football. He found almost 18,000 mentions in Google Scholar, then proceeded to rephrase the goal using some 20 variations, including:

  •   Lessen trauma
  •   Weaken crash
  •   Soften jolt
  •   Reduce energy
  •   Absorb energy
  •   Substitute energy
  •   Repel energy

Using the same search engine, he demonstrated that terms like “repel energy in football contact” are rarely used in the science community. Which indicated that this angle of analysis, for this specific goal, had potentially never been explored before.

By studying this phrasing, Dr. McCaffrey and his team were able to see the statement from a different point of view, and began experimenting with ways energy could be repelled using magnets. They tested this theory by making each helmet magnetic using the same pole, so two helmets would repel each other as they got closer. Not only did helmets decelerate when they were about to collide, their shape and magnetic force meant they glanced off each other rather than hit head on. Dr. McCaffrey filed a patent for the idea in 2015.


If you and your team need new ideas, try one of our design thinking workshops to see how taking a different look at your goals can propel you in whole new directions.

After all, increasing your market share usually lowers that of your competition. You may be surprised at what a little experimenting can do!


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Arnaud Montpetit
Vice-President, Strategy