Defining goals allow businesses to monitor progress and gauge their successes. Having aims is a fundamental organisational step to ensure teams are aware of what they are working towards, and importantly how they can measure the quality of their output.
But what if instead of saying what we want to happen, we focused on what we didn't want to happen?
Stoic philosophers mused the concept of inversion, known as 'premeditatio malorum'. This translates to the 'premeditation of evils', i.e. envisioning the worst, to prepare yourself against possible failures.
From a business viewpoint, we can consider undesirable scenarios such as employees working too late yet achieving too little (tired and unenthused), ideas not bubbling up through the company and only genuine mental investment coming from the few not the many, or public perception of the company as being untrustworthy or selfish.
Often it can be easier to discuss what a business wishes to avoid, then consider all the positive possibilities that could come from their work. These 'negative goals' could be considered 'anti-goals', i.e. what we aim to avoid at all costs. When discussing anti-goals, we can look at five key areas: Values, habitual, physical, emotional, and relationships.
For individuals, we would consider value anti-goals as standards or behaviours that we would not wish to embody. This can be extended to a business, as the brand persona or corporate identity. When building your brand, you may dream of the average consumer perceiving you as responsible, friendly, thoughtful, or generally great quality—but taking time to identify what you don't want to be seen as can be equally as important.
For businesses promoting ethical practice, it is highly important that they don't appear unethical, apathetic, or non-transparent. The team could identify which factors might lead to such distrust and negative brand association, and ensure they distill a culture in the workplace—and communications strategy—that will protect their longterm values.
Linked to values, and what you believe and preach, are the actions and habits you display. Both the publicly visible actions of a company, and the internal culture matter.
For example, within the Mäd office we have the Bloo team; As champions of team management software, it wouldn't make sense for the team to be have unorganised work flows or unstructured communication and approaches. Building up positive habits is great, but starting by defining what the team can't be is useful. To define this you can ask:
What actions do we want to make sure that are team actively avoid?
Physical goals may seem more obvious for individuals, such as figuring out what their long term physical health should be—and what issues to avoid. For businesses, it is still a consideration for team welfare.
For digital companies, with awareness of high screen times, we can highlight various eyesight issues to avoid. In offices there is a tendency to he hunched over laptops and computers all day, so we need to be aware of posture issues and potential carpal tunnel syndrome.
Equally important is mental health, and emotional wellbeing. For a team to perform well, and healthily, there are various negative influencing factors that should be avoided.
There may be particular states of mind that a business simply wishes to avoid. Defining key problematic emotional states early, can ensure that a framework is built to keep teams protected.
Finally, considering relationships, often we look at ideal networking opportunities or the perfect interactions from a brand and consumers—yet the anti-goal approach allows us to build away from toxic or harmful situations.
We have to consider how we want to interact with those around us, and which types of relationships we want to avoid. Often knowing what you don't want, helps you find what you want. As an example, McKinsey & Company were able to earn a highly profitable margin from their work with various Pharmaceutical companies—but the eventual backlash towards some unethical decision making led to a large lawsuit, and bad publicity.
Another less extreme example, would be to look at how a client or customer would interact with your brand and the public perception of those businesses or individuals. Abercrombie & Fitch famously aimed to be exclusive and for 'the cool kids' only— for them their anti-goal was to be worn by those society deemed 'uncool'. Their relentless pursuit to stay elite was based on being able to charge a higher price-tag for the relationship, however their lack of foresight failed to predict and protect against their values being perceived as toxic.
Once we've defined what we don't want our business to be, it can be difficult to fully craft an image that'll motivate the team against this anti-goal position. Therefore, the next stage is to take your evaluations, and turn your anti-goals into a persona—much like how a brand personality is envisioned.
At this point, we'll add a final consideration and include the anti-goal 'Identity'.
The development of an identity helps us craft the anti-hero image we aim to avoid, various traits or attributes may appear from this process. For an agency, an anti-persona may follow various trains of thought such as:
In 5 years time, they're hunched over their keyboards with poor eyesight, taking regular breaks to huddle round the office bar and shout about local celebrity news. They live for holidays, trying to find the quickest, easiest way to finish highly profitable work so that they don't need to spend their time in work whenever possible. Their clients are always new, as their slapdash work scares off repeat custom, and the high price tags attached confuse clients as to what they should expect. Their team is large, but largely chaotic and noisy, very seldom socialising outside of work or even communicating progress probably in an easy manner. The daily parade of fast food orders wrapped in excessive plastic has given the team a gluttonous reputation and the photos of the office on social media constantly show the place to be messy, and noticeably non-enthused about environmentally friendly practices—despite their website claiming they have various CSR interests.
Each individual would have a different persona, and collectively coming up with a business persona can be mildly challenging. The above example largely refers to the team and how they operate - but another way to look at it could be to think purely of public perception of the faceless brand.
With anti-goals defined, and a worrying identity crafted as an ultimate nightmare to avoid, motivation can soar to drive your business away from troublesome directions. However, these negative goals alone don't cover all bases, and have further considerations:
Applying overall goals, and anti-goals, to a brand or business can be useful—but you can take this practice forward into daily operations. Whether you're planning a project, or even general daily tasks, it can be of use to break down the particular anti-goals for actionables (and their potential perceptions, interactions, and consequences).
When concocting intelligent user experience design, there has to be a considered thought as to which negative actions and experiences should be avoided. For instance, if the design and processes are too complex it might frustrate the user and lead to a high drop-off rate when attempting to perform certain tasks. By defining the instances we wish to avoid, we can plan solutions that aid our success.
A strong starting point for all our UX projects, is to consider 'Dark UX Patterns', and ensure we can avoid them whenever possible. Being aware of negative patterns can hyper focus our design direction and help fashion a more ethical, practical, and transparent end result—truly designed to benefit the user.
When we develop our Mäd website, we take the five key areas (ref: Values, habitual, physical, emotional, and relationships) into consideration. This makes the design task go beyond the surface level of pleasing aesthetics and a hub for our information to be displayed—we start analysing how we should or shouldn't structure our site architecture and the reasoning behind our approach to storytelling.
To define our anti-goals, we often look at where we've been or where other competitors occupy. By doing so, we are targeting progression, i.e. healthy growth, but also looking to carve out our niche area in the market. Our values should align with our communications strategy and be consistently matched with the user experience. For example, when advocating for clarity, it would be counter-intuitive to have a messy or confusing UI for our own brand website. If we champion deep thinking, but only produce short-form 'listicle' content like Buzzfeed articles, then we'll seem hypocritical.
With consideration to habits, we may firstly examine how our backend UI enables team members to produce the content we wish. The anti-goal here might be to avoid the CMS encouraging shortcuts, producing lazier writing that lacks depth and relies on gimmicky drag-and-drop block style layouts. For users we want to encourage repeat site visitors and keep people engaged, so an anti-goal could be concerned with bounce rates.
To conclude, it may go against usual convention to focus on what you don't want to be, yet your anti-goal persona can ensure your identity is better defined and protected. It can add an extra layer of purpose and thought, to motivate your business into becoming exactly what it wants to be.
When focusing on individual tasks, or projects, it may be more useful to use potential customer personas instead. Map out typical users, and the various likely attributes they may have. With your hypothetical data, you can muse how expectations, behaviours, and general variables will interact with your outcomes; If you're creating an app or a website, you can decide which anti-goals are important to each persona. Examples of this may include ensuring that the language used in your build is not too complex, or even simplified, to alienate particular uses—or perhaps you may need to avoid certain colour choices to avoid association to negative organisations or competitors operating in the same sphere.
User testing is an important layer to keep your thinking in line with reality, as often educated guesses may be shown to be flawed in their assumptions. Always aim to test your work to strengthen the probability that the desired end result will match your goals, and of course, avoid your anti-goals.