“Hey, little girl! So, Goldilocks wants to be astronaut? Well here’s the 2,000 point launch check list – good luck kid!” That’s one way to kill a youngster’s interest in an exciting career.
At the other end of the scale, we have “Hi there, Sonny, welcome to baked bean production 101… here they come! One bean, two beans, three beans…” That can kill interest faster than a bean counter can reach 100!
Somewhere in between those two extremes lies the Goldilocks Rule. Within the rule, work tasks, job progression and personal development become a manageable challenge for each individual. Similar to the Goldilocks Zone around distant stars where planets might support life, the Goldilocks Rule, nurtures growth and encourages progress.
In a catch-all terminology, people are most motivated when working on tasks that challenge their current abilities. Not too hard or too easily, but just at just the right level or pace.
Goldilocks for Growth
For those unfamiliar with classic fairy tales, in Goldilocks, a little girl visited the home of a family of three bears, and tried each of their meals, chairs and beds. She choose the options most comfortable for her, in terms of taste, size and softness.
This is what people generally prefer when it comes to making progress in life. It applies to you on the first day in your first ever job, up to the most prestigious winners of the Field’s Medal, awarded to the brightest mathematicians. If you were dumped on with information overload, you wouldn’t have turned up for day two, while those boffins wouldn’t likely have come close to math fame outside the sanctity of their collegiate ivory towers.
The key to progress is the lure of constant challenge, with tasks that remain both achievable and interesting, broken up into pieces of work that are just right. If you’re in charge at work, then you can set those rules. If it is down to HR departments or a dreaded boss behind a closed door, then an honest conversation is called for.
If something seems too hard, then break the problem down into smaller pieces. In simple terms, a book project becomes 20 discrete chapters. A dense report becomes an attractive intro, meaty middle and a punchy ending, and so on.
If a job is too simple, then create additional challenges, even artificial ones, to liven it up, or break the job up among team members to share the pain, and get it done faster.
When you find the perfect tempo or comfort level for a task, then the trick is to enjoy it. However, once you become accustomed to it, then to find a way of pushing it a little further without upsetting the apple cart.
Pros and Cons, and Beyond Goldilocks
This rule can be applied across many areas of business, from pricing strategies, helping to establish the sweet spot in a market your company is new to. There’s usually the low-cost option for cash-strapped customers, a mid-range model or offering for most and the high-end edition of your product for those who like to spend, spend, spend.
It also applies to business markets as a whole, with the Goldilocks Rule bringing modest and steady growth, that is a far cry from the early peaks and troughs of revenue or earnings for startups.
The benefits of the Golidlocks Rule for people and companies alike are that they create a safety net, reduce stress, up and down the chain, and help teach people and business a stable route to growth or productivity.
The risks are that people and comfortable become too comfortable, not willing to take risks or to push themselves. It is in these cases where a two-speed strategy can be of benefit. All of the essential tasks for a business can be run according to this Goldilocks Rule, but new ideas need to operated at a faster pace, tempo or done in a riskier manner.
This two-paced, bimodal strategy, keeps people’s wits on edge, their eyes on the ball and provides a challenge to allow new leaders and ideas to emerge. Also, those who can’t adapt to changes of pace or strategy can be identified and left politely behind or have their roles modified according to the Goldilocks Rule to help them along.
If you have a brilliant example of the Goldilocks Rule in effect in your office or life, do let us know!