In 1961 at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy made a challenge to the country that he had a dream to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely. Because the United States was amid the Cold War with the Soviet Union, space was believed to be the next battlefield which had both countries competing at a breakneck speed. Eight years later, the Apollo 11 Mission put both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon and subsequently brought them home safely. This colossus achievement in innovation is attributed to President Kennedy’s bold declaration which united a nation, forged collaboration, and pushed the state of science beyond its limits.


There is a thoroughly studied area of psychology on goal setting. When done correctly, goal setting is effective and often critical to success. Goals give individuals and teams direction by focusing their attention on goal-relevant behaviors and away from irrelevant tasks. Achievement and the anticipation of attainment motivate Mankind. When an individual knows that a goal is challenging yet believes it is within their abilities to accomplish, they are more likely to be motivated to complete a task. Psychologist Thomas Ryan defined his “goal-setting theory” finding that by just identifying a goal increases performance motivation in accomplishing it.

Having goals improves performance, having goals that are beyond reach elicits an even greater motivational push. An optimistic approach to goal setting aids success and research into goal setting among students indicates that factors such as hope and optimism have a significant impact on how goals are managed. Goals that are both specific and difficult lead to overall improved performance. Edwin Locke’s discovered that non-specific goals such as “I will try to do my best” lead to lower performance and that a vague goal is associated with lowering one’s capabilities. Ambitious, challenging goals are more of a motivator than money and it has been found that goal setting is the major lever to incentivize creativity.


The environment that pushes itself consistently will achieve more. General Electric (GE) during the 1980s and 1990s exampled high levels of challenge. CEO Jack Welch declared that for all of GE’s business units, they needed to be the first or second in their industry’s market share. This inevitably drove innovation, performance, and expectations that drove the company value up by 4,000% during his tenure. The key is that organizations with high expectations live up to them. The top innovative companies are also the ones that set huge goals and consistently achieve more than their competitors.

The important function of challenging goals is that it gives the employees incentive and permission to dream bigger believing that anything is possible. It was once considered impossible to run a four-minute mile until Roger Banter accomplished it letting the world know it was possible, now it is a routine occurrence. These big goals that seem outrageous become achievable only with confidence. That confidence comes from support and resources which leads to the employees dreaming big.

Recognizing Achievement

It is one thing to dream big, it is another thing to follow through with recognizing the size of the accomplishment once it is achieved. An organization that does not celebrate inspiration will quickly be infected with cynicism. Similarly, this ties back to performance rewards, where there is always a motivation for effort.

This motivation can be money, status, praise, among other things, but there is a reason why an individual or team will push beyond their limits to achieve something great. Setting extreme goals and achieving them is a big deal. Hence, to not acknowledge stretch goals is to negate the effectiveness of future the motivators. The role of the leader is to let the organization know of its importance, they must celebrate the accomplishment, and validate the team with praise for if they don’t they will never get that effort again on a challenging goal.

Practical Applications

  • Understand the team’s capabilities and set goals just beyond their reach
  • Make the team’s goals specific and measurable
  • Focus discussions with the team on making giant leaps versus playing it safe

Earth’s Engines

Dennis Danzik is an industrial engineer who was hired by Wyoming based Inductance Energy Corporation to improve the design of a diesel generator in the oil fields. After months of trying, he could not improve upon the design. Consequently, his CEO asked him if he had any other ideas and he brought forward his concept for a revolutionary new magnetic generator. It was one that would use a flywheel that extracts energy from the interplay of exotic magnets.

Perpetual motion machines have been popular lore of machines that could create energy out of thin air. Known widely as a false invention, perpetual motion machines were a science fiction dream and sign of a charlatan selling the machine that could create everlasting energy. The Earth Engine is different in that it will eventually exhaust itself, but it is unknown when that will occur. Therefore, this still leaves many skeptics believing that Mr. Danzik’s invention is a sham for if it is true the new-found knowledge would rewrite textbooks and create a new field of dynamics. Hence, the Dennis Danzik tale is one of challenge. The goal to find a commercial energy generator source. Being surrounded by skeptics, he responded with a model that violates the laws of thermodynamics.


Bressler, M. B. (2010). The role and relationship of hope, optimism and goal setting in academic success: A study of students enrolled in online accounting courses. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 37-51.


Latham, G. &. (1979). Goal Setting – A Motivational Technique That Works. Organizational Dynamics, 68-80.


Locke, E. (1996). Motivation through conscious goal setting. Applied & preventive psychology, 117-124.


Mention, A.-L., Ferreira, J., & Torkkeli, M. (2019). Moonshot innovations: Wishful Thinking or Business-As-Usual? Journal of Innovation Management, 1-6.


Neil, D. (2019). One Man’s Quest to Power the World With Magnets. Wall Street Journal.


Ryan, T. (1970). Intentional Behavior. New York: Ronald Press.


Watson, M. (2018). Common Strategies and Practices Among Facilitators of Innovative Thinking in Organizations. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.


Welch, J. a. (2005). Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book. New York: Harper Business.


Zimmerman, B. B.-P. (1992). Self-Motivation for Academic Attainment: The Role of Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Personal Goal Setting. American Educational Research Journal, 663-676.


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