15000 push-ups, OKRs, and a reflection on goal setting and team dynamics

#motivation #goals #okr

Around last September, I registered to a 15k push-ups challenge organized by Heinz Kabutz. The challenge was simple:

  • Bronze: 1000 push-ups during October 2018

  • Silver: Bronze, plus 2000 push-ups during November 2018

  • Gold: Silver, plus 3000 push-ups during December 2018

  • Platinum: Gold, plus 4000 push-ups during January 2019

  • Diamond: Platinum, plus 5000 push-ups during February 2019

As I was finishing my last ones of the Diamond level a few days ago, and I was finishing Radical Focus [1], I started thinking about motivation.

Hard, but not impossible

Since a bit more than a year, advised in part by Tyler, I started reading more around leadership and management.

In Smarter Faster Better [2], there’s an awesome story about a study where a group of people would be asked to run 100 meters in 10 seconds. Then, they would be be asked to run 200 meters, still in 10 seconds.

Both are obviously hard, or impossible for mere mortals, but still we all know 200 meters is just impossible for humans, period.

Guess what they found: when trying to run 100m, people would cover significantly more distance in 10 seconds than when aiming for 200m. In other words, it demonstrated than if you give a clearly unreachable objective to people, this will result in reduced performance.

Back to push-ups

When I started this challenge, I thought I would definitely do the first month (30 push-ups a day in average), and likely the second one in November. Unsure for December and January, and then quite certain I wouldn’t be able to keep going until the end in February, where it would average 179 a day!

But as I finally did it, I think there are two learnings here.

Progressivity is key

I am pretty sure I would have failed if I had to start directly at 5000 a month. Going with 1000 more each month had me trained, both physically and mentally, for the next stage.

Linking back more to my usual job, I feel this can relate for instance be related to the common adage Start small. I also cannot help thinking about some convolution around John Gall’s law: if you start too high, you are likely to get burned and have to start over.

Team work

That one might be less obvious, but definitely played a role in my case. The fact I knew I was not the only one going through all this certainly made me make more efforts especially on days where I felt less motivated. This seems crystal clear to me: had I started this challenge on my own, alone, and it would have been orders of magnitude harder to stay committed to it. I want to see a link here between this and the work people usually do in a team, from which they derive more energy and fun to succeed together.

Objective and Key Results

In Radical Focus [3], Hanna, Jim and Jack discuss OKRs, and defining a quantitative Key Result for the Objective they’ve just settled on.

[…​] Hanna continued, "Like reorders at 30%?"

Jim jumped in. "OKRs need to be hard goals, The kind you only have a 50/50 shot of achieving […​]"

Jack jumped in. "100% reorders!"

Jim smiled."Is that possible? It can be upsetting to set a goal the team knows they cannot achieve."

— Radical Focus
page 33


I am happy I finally put this out.

As often in sociology I feel, this kind of things looks obvious after the fact, but it is not.

Also very happy to have experimented this in real life. It’s like common mistakes in Software Development: you get taught to avoid some well known ones. But still being able to afford making some yourself is going to prove soo much more useful for the long term.

Define hard goals, but not too hard. Iterate and raise the bar as you go, in the long run you will go much further and higher.

1. Thanks Isa!
2. Writing this without the book handy, so I hope I didn’t mix books. Will check when back home.
3. By the way, another great book where the first part is written like a novel. Similar to The Phoenix Project, or The Goal in this regard.
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