The Ambitious Target Tree – Plan your way to Success!


The Ambitious Target Tree is a visual thinking tool that helps you to plan and achieve whatever goals you may set for yourself. It makes Napolean Bonaparte’s famous quote literally true – “Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.” If you use this thinking tool properly and act upon the formulated plan vigorously, you will soon forget the meaning of the word ‘impossible’!

The Ambitious Target Tree can be used by students to achieve personal goals. Teachers and students can use it to achieve the curriculum completion as per the year plan. The school staff can use it achieve school objectives (again, the objectives have to be clearly defined first, and that is a topic for another article!). It can be used to guide students to complete their school projects.

Let’s understand how to use this tool with the help of an example. I actually did this with a group of students. We all agreed upon a common ambitious target – “To ensure all students score more than 95% aggregate in the final exam.”

The first step is to construct the prerequisite tree. We need to collect all the objections, obstacles and excuses that anyone can think of that stands between us and our ambition. You can note each of these objections in a separate post-it. Then , you can arrange them in a hierarchical manner from bottom to top such that the immediate problems are at the bottom, and the problems that may arise at the final stages are at the top of the tree. You can see the figure below for reference:

Such a chart is called a prerequisite tree, since it details the prerequisites that must be accomplished and obstacles that must be overcome before we can advance closer towards the goal. Note that this step takes advantage of people’s natural propensity and ability to point out why something can’t get done.

Then, each individual who raised an obstacle identifies an “intermediate objective” (IO) that would overcome it or make it moot. (After all, the person who comes up with an obstacle probably has the most intuition about what it would take to address it.) These IOs are not actions, but rather states, that, if they existed, would deal with the obstacle. Think of them as milestones in an implementation plan as opposed to the actions or tasks that get us to the milestones.

Once all the Intermediate Objectives are identified, the obstacles are used to sequence the IOs into a network that becomes the plan to achieve the objective. This is a straightforward process of going down the list of IOs and assessing whether any of the other identified obstacles stand in the way of making them happen. Once sequenced, team effort can then be focused appropriately, since the network points the group to start on those IOs that don’t depend on others, and only when they are done, they know they can move on to the next because they’ve overcome an obstacle that was blocking them.

Once the intermediate objectives have been identified, you can come up with an action plan to achieve each of those objectives and appoint an in-charge to oversee the action plan to its completion. In our example, the final action-plan looked like this:

The prerequisite tree to achieve our ambition looked like this:


I suppose it wouldn’t be a bad idea to put it on the wall where all the students and teachers can view it and think about it many times a day. As Denis Waitley said,  “The secret to productive goal setting is in establishing clearly defined goals, writing them down and then focusing on them several times a day with words, pictures and emotions as if we’ve already achieved them.” The green boxes contain the action items that will overcome the obstacles in the red hexagons, and lead us all the way to the top – our ambitious target!


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