Setting a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG)

Power of Flight
by Matthew E May

Over at the American Express Open Forum Idea Hub, I’ve posted “How to Set a BHAG.” A BHAG is a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal, and it’s a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

I’m constantly asked about the challenge of complacency — you know, things are going well, but there’s a comfort setting in, and people are riding a different wave than when things were a struggle. The complaint goes something like this: “We’re stuck. Stuck in the old school, stuck in the status quo, stuck in stall mode. We want things done differently, but we can’t seem to get there from here. We’ve lost our edge. The days of rapid innovation are disappearing in the rearview mirror. There’s widespread lethargy.”

In short, the entrepreneurial spirit is M.I.A. and “How do I create a burning platform for change?” is the question.

G.K. Chesterton once said: “Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.”

In that quote is the answer to the question! You must create limits and constraints to frame the challenge and drive innovative thinking. The best way to do that in the midst of success is to set stretch goals…BHAGs.

You see, the problem is an addiction to abundant resources. And that addiction to resources is blocking innovation. The cry is for more money, people, and space to innovate. But wait a minute! That’s probably not how the company started. Somewhere in the company tree is a story of humble beginnings. Maybe it didn’t start in the proverbial garage, but it started with little of everything: money, space, labor. But it was those limits that made people more creative and resourceful than they are today. What WAS in abundance: goals, and a passion for reaching them.

So, reset the bar. Get back to the future. Get the band back together. Get back to basics. Get back to blocking and tackling. Return to your roots. And all the other cliches that spring to mind for vanquishing the complacency that comes with success. To recapture the start-up spirit, recreate the kinds of limitations that drive new thinking.

Then trust people to solve the problem.

Matthew E MayMatthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.

Matthew E May




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