1/ Many simple situations have clear goals, like traveling to a destination or assembling a piece of furniture.
2/ In these situations you are usually reusing one or more canned, proven plans rather than inventing one.
3/ At the other extreme are situations that seem to defy goal-setting and planning, like "revive the economy."
4/ Such "goals" are usually ill-posed in a "life, the universe and everything" way.
5/ Such situations usually resolve themselves in unexpected emergent ways or lead to inevitable collapse.
6/ Usually, we don't understand what happened till decades or centuries later, if ever.
7/ We still don't grok how Europe achieved the "goal" of getting out of the Dark Ages via a renaissance. Nobody planned it.
8/ Emergent resolutions, unlike planned solutions, usually occur despite authoritarian goals and plans, not because of them.
9/ Between reused canned solutions and illegible emergent resolutions of "situations" lie the tricky cases.
10/ In this middle, we have creativity-demanding situations that also seem to allow clear goals and determinate planning.
11/ Examples include things like getting to Mars or proving an important theorem.
12/ The apparent clarity of "obvious" goals and plans is deceptive. Critical enabling breakthroughs are usually unplanned.
13/ Proving a theorem, for instance, may involve spotting an unexpected connection to a seemingly unrelated math problem.
14/ Getting to Mars may rely on an unplanned technical breakthrough in a field not even considered in the plan.
15/ Without such creative breakthroughs, complex goals leads to failure or pyrrhic victories.
16/ The research described in this fivethirtyeight article gets at why this happens.
17/ Setting a goal closes off thinking to the unexpected insights that might create extreme leverage.
18/ To work without goals, the key is to devote energy and attention to capability expansion through tinkering.
19/ Tinkering with a sufficiently open mind and playful attitude reveals unexpected capabilities.
20/ These unexpected capabilities suggest unplanned possibilities. The medium suggests the message.
21/ You may not achieve the goal you set, but whatever you do achieve will be a highly leveraged victory.
22/ In other words, you'll know what you want when you find it, so long as you are expanding capabilities.
23/ Complex achievements depend on a cascade of such leveraged breakthroughs fueling serendipitous momentum.
24/ From beginning to end, it may feel like a goal is being set and achieved, but that's usually a hindsight narrative.
25/ Is there any need for goal-setting in complex situations? Perhaps. Goal-setting is fundamentally about analysis..
26/ In material effect terms, analysis is destruction, synthesis is creation.
27/ Destruction (not always a bad thing) of any sort may work well with goal-setting.
28/ Why? Because when you are destroying, entropy and uncertainty work with you, instead of against you.
29/ Examples include war-time goals, placing a complex short-selling bet or taking a machine apart to see how it works.
30/ You can "plan" for destruction in a way you cannot plan for creation. And the process can generate creation insights too.
31/ Of course complex achievements involve creative-destruction, so you need a bit of both.
32/ Plan your destruction with goals, your creation through tinkering and capability expansion.
33/ In conclusion, there IS a best way to achieve any goal: by accident. So try and get lucky, punk.