A formula for progress and achieving goals

We all have goals we want to achieve: personal, family, community, work goals. They may be short or long term, but they all require progress and progress has a formula. Fortunately, this formula is not like others you might have been taught in Science and Mathematics. It is simple to follow, delivers immediate benefits, and it can be applied in everyday life to almost all areas of life.  This formula is a blueprint, a prescription, a technique and it is captured in one symbol.

The first part of the formula and label on the symbol is Goal. It is at the top because having an objective determines the direction, create context and defines what to measure progress against. Once you know where you are going, you can measure your progress towards the destination. So in a sense, the goal defines progress.

To achieve anything you need to have an idea of what to do. As Kwame Nkrumah said, “Action without thought is empty.” The top inner circle represents the world of ideas. It is intertwined with the physical world to show the process of applying an idea and the resulting change.

Progress is about the future: ‘Life must be lived forwards’(Søren Kierkegaard). You set a target for some point in the future and then work towards it. For an idea to be useful and help it must make a prediction. It must tell you something about the future you are interested in. However, just like the weather forecast. It is not enough to just make a prediction - anyone can do that - the forecast has to be accurate, and reliable.

Progress needs truth or to put it the other way round if you apply false ideas you are very unlikely to make progress and much more likely to regress. The next two labels of the symbol are about the truth.  The first focuses on testing the truth. Ideas that predict some events and exclude others can be physically tested. You can check that they are logically consistent and how accurate and reliable their predictions are.

Results that match the prediction support an idea’s truth, and those that contradict it indicate it is untrue.  Progress need truth, so it is important to be honest about the results. All the results are relevant and negative results are particularly significant because even a single result can show an idea is untrue. However, it is very human only to look for supporting results, and this temptation needs to resisted.

 In theory, the test results should decide the truth and what you believe: seeing is believing. However, people often have preconceived belief and the new evidence may not be compelling. The challenge is that progress needs us to be open to new evidence. As each result comes in belief needs to be updated. If it is more supporting evidence, then our belief becomes a little stronger. However, if the evidence contradicts our current belief, then we need to give it more significance and reduce our level of belief accordingly. More and more supporting evidence may be reassuring but it is not very informative. You might already have been very confident an idea was right, and now you are ever so slightly more confident. In the practical world, this increase makes no difference to how you will act. However, negative results are much more significant and informative. Just one completely unexpected result can question the truth of the idea. Although it may be unsettling, we learn more from negative results.

Either way, once you believe an idea is true and can help you the next thing to consider is how to apply it. Progress is largely a social enterprise: people working together towards a shared goal. In a social enterprise individuals need to discuss and agree on the goal, test and agree which ideas will help, develop an implementation plan and then work together to apply it. The team that forms in this process can achieve great things.    

There are some other elements of the formula. Take a step back and look at the whole symbol:

  • One top level goal can be split into sub-goals. Each sub-goal can have its own set of ideas for achieving the goal. The formula can be used within itself or nested.
  • The formula is self-correcting. Ideas are physically tested, and those that fail are eliminated. 
  • Ideas and actions build on themselves. There is a cumulative effect with each new idea and application opening adjacent possibilities.


In conclusion, the power of the formula is delivered when all of the parts work together. Progress is how far the application of the idea moves you towards the goal.