Will Smith on Path (vs Goal) Orientation

will smithI am not a “stop and smell the roses” type of person. When someone throws this common cliché at me, I tend to put them in the category of “you don’t have enough to do.” I, after all, have always tried to steamroll my way towards a goal with the implicit understanding that I’ll “enjoy the ride” once I’ve come out victorious. However, as Will Smith recently found, this may not be the most healthy approach.

Over the last 25 years, Will Smith’s career has been a barrage of successful movies. Both critically and financially, his track record has been flawless…with one notable exception. Last year, Will made After Earth, a big budget sci-fi film co-starring his son. Not only did it flop at the box office, but it earned three Razzies, including one for worst actor. I don’t write this to besmirch Will; what I’m focused on is how this setback changed his view of success.

In a recent interview with People magazine, Will discussed his new film Focus and described his new outlook.

After the failure of After Earth, a thing got broken in my mind. [With time] I was like, ‘Oh, wow. I’m still alive. Oh, wow. Actually, I still am me, even though the movie didn’t open number one… So when I went into Focus, I completely released the concept of goal orientation and got into path orientation. This moment, this second, these people, this interaction.

Taking time to enjoy the process does not come naturally to many of us, though new research shows we may need to put more effort into appreciating these special moments as they happen. Nancy Fagley’s study in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences suggests that appreciation plays a significant role in one’s quality of life. These individuals who acknowledge the meaningful things and people in their lives are twice as likely to feel overall happiness and satisfaction. As Nancy states:

The challenge in fostering appreciation is that we want to periodically reflect on the positive aspects of our lives, value our friends and family, relish and savor the good times—without the practice of reflection becoming a rote habit or something that is taken for granted.

By taking the time to reflect and appreciate these moments in real-time, we are evading the hindsight appreciation that is attempted once the objective is complete. Try as we might, by the time you have completed the journey, it is not possible to walk backwards through every moment that could have been savored. And what happens if you don’t accomplish the goal?

We cannot just change this mentality for ourselves. As leaders, we are also responsible for inspiring the team to follow suit. This is not to say that we should ignore our goal-oriented activities, but it is possible we are spending an overabundance of time defining and revising the team’s goals. In addition to setting the target, we need to shape the way our team pursues their goals through path-oriented activities. This includes a focus on how we:

  • allocate our time,
  • prioritize initiatives,
  • incorporate ethical behavior and decision making,
  • select and onboard new team members,
  • incentivize those on the team, and
  • coach team members.

It takes years for Will Smith to make a movie. Imagine how much time is squandered if he speeds through these years to only savor the opening weekend of the film? Is he still trying to open with a #1 hit? Of course, but he (and all of us) can also take the time and make the effort to appreciate the small wins along the way. This will lead to greater career satisfaction, further engagement with you and your team, and more opportunities to enjoy success along the long path towards an accomplishment.