Home » Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals: John Doerr (Transcript)

Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals: John Doerr (Transcript)

Following is the full transcript of American investor John Doerr’s TED Talk titled “Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals.”


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John Doerr – American investor

We’re at a critical moment. Our leaders, some of our great institutions are failing us.


In some cases, it’s because they’re bad or unethical, but often, they’ve taken us to the wrong objectives. And this is unacceptable. This has to stop.

How are we going to correct these wrongs? How are we going to choose the right course? It’s not going to be easy. For years, I’ve worked with talented teams and they’ve chosen the right objectives and the wrong objectives. Many have succeeded, others of them have failed.

And today I’m going to share with you what really makes a difference — that’s what’s crucial, how and why they set meaningful and audacious goals, the right goals for the right reasons.

Let’s go back to 1975. Yep, this is me. I’ve got a lot to learn, I’m a computer engineer, I’ve got long hair, but I’m working under Andy Grove, who’s been called the greatest manager of his or any other era.

Andy was a superb leader and also a teacher, and he said to me, “John, it almost doesn’t matter what you know. Execution is what matters the most.”

And so Andy invented a system called “Objectives and Key Results.” It kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? And it’s all about excellent execution.

So here’s a classic video from the 1970s of professor Andy Grove.

(Video clip – Andy Grove: The two key phrases of the management by objective systems are the objectives and the key results, and they match the two purposes. The objective is the direction. The key results have to be measured, but at the end you can look and without any argument say, “Did I do that, or did I not do that?” Yes, No. Simple.


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That’s Andy. Yes. No. Simple.

Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, are a simple goal-setting system and they work for organizations, they work for teams, they even work for individuals.

The objectives are what you want to have accomplished. The key results are how I’m going to get that done. Objectives. Key results. What and how.

But here’s the truth: many of us are setting goals wrong, and most of us are not setting goals at all. A lot of organizations set objectives and meet them. They ship their sales, they introduce their new products, they make their numbers, but they lack a sense of purpose to inspire their teams.

So how do you set these goals the right way?

First, you must answer the question, “Why?” Why? Because truly transformational teams combine their ambitions to their passion and to their purpose, and they develop a clear and compelling sense of why. I want to tell you a story.

I work with a remarkable entrepreneur. Her name is Jini Kim. She runs a company called Nuna. Nuna is a health care data company. And when Nuna was founded, they used data to serve the health needs of lots of workers at large companies.

And then two years into the company’s life, the federal government issued a proposal to build the first ever cloud database for Medicaid.

Now, you’ll remember that Medicaid is that program that serves 70 million Americans, our poor, our children and people with disabilities. Nuna at the time was just 15 people and this database had to be built in one year, and they had a whole set of commitments that they had to honor. And frankly, they weren’t going to make very much money on the project. This was a bet-your-company moment, and Jini seized it. She jumped at the opportunity. She did not flinch.

Why? Well, it’s a personal why. Jini’s younger brother Kimong has autism. And when he was seven, he had his first grand mal seizure at Disneyland. He fell to the ground. He stopped breathing.

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Jini’s parents are Korean immigrants. They came to the country with limited resources, speaking little English, so it was up to Jini to enroll her family in Medicaid. She was nine years old. That moment defined her mission, and that mission became her company, and that company bid on, won and delivered on that contract.

Here’s Jini to tell you why.

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