Set big goals. Do whatever it takes to reach them. These muscular sentences form the core of commencement addresses, business-advice books, political movements and even the United Nations approach to global poverty. In “Strategic Intuition,” a concise and entertaining treatise on human achievement, William Duggan says that such pronouncements are not only banal but wrong.
Mr. Duggan, who teaches strategy at Columbia Business School, argues that the commonplace formula has it backward. Instead of setting goals first, he says, it is better to watch for opportunities with large payoffs at low costs and only then set your goals. That is what innovators throughout history have done, as Mr. Duggan shows in a deliriously fast-paced tour of history.
What are some good counter-examples? The moon landing? The Manhattan project? D-Day? Anything from the private sector?