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First, if you haven’t read Stables and Volatiles, go read it and then come back.

I’m working on OKRs this week and pondering whether objectives that require ‘just’ working hard are good enough, or whether our objectives should require a miracle to pull off. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, one of our objectives has a 10% chance of success if we work on it at a normal level and a 20% chance of success if we bust our butts and pull off a couple brilliant moves. When my team sees the goal, I imagine something like this going through their heads:

Volatile

That’s a tough goal. But if we work together, we can double our chance of success. And if we succeed it will be awesome! Plus, even if we don’t succeed, when we shoot for the stars, we’ll at least hit the moon and that will be great too. Let’s do this!

Stable

We will most likely miss that goal. And even if we all work extra hard, we will still most likely miss that goal–chance plays the biggest role here. If I work just hard enough to get full credit for participating and then invest some time in an extra credit project, I can hedge: if we get lucky, we hit the goal and we have my extra credit win too. If we miss the goal (as is likely) we’ll at least have my extra credit project as a win. If we miss the goal and my extra credit project doesn’t work out, at least I learned a new skill and had fun while working on my extra credit project.

Volatiles seek glory and the chance at an interesting outcome. Give them Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals and stand back. Stables seek high probability success. Give them the chance to take an initiative from 90% to 99% probability of success and stand back. Just don’t confuse or mix the two or you’ll end up demotivating a lot of your team.