“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.” – John F. Kennedy
Let’s say that you’ve recently done some soul searching on a personal level, and you’ve been able to think about who you want to be and what you want to be known for (psst—that’s a sign that you’ve done some work on your Core Values and Core Purpose.) Out of this soul searching, you decide you want to do something remarkable with your life. You decide you want to run a marathon—and not just any marathon; you want to run the most elite marathon in the US: the Boston Marathon.
To run the Boston Marathon, you have to qualify by completing a different marathon at a fast-enough pace. It’s a major under-taking—but it’s your dream. Completing the Boston marathon becomes your BHAG—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.
So, you start training. In the hardest moments—when you’re nursing blisters or running through sleet or pushing up a hill on your seventeenth mile—you push yourself to imagine what it’s going to be like when you complete the Boston marathon. Your family and friends will all be there, cheering. You’ll collapse on the ground, but you’ll be filled with indescribable joy. You’ll have a new understanding of your own capabilities, a new zest to take on challenges and dreams. Surrounded by famous historical landmarks and old brick buildings, you will embark on a brand-new phase of your life. It will be incredible. It will be life changing.
That Vivid Description of what happens after the finish line is going to keep you motivated during the hardest times. In fact, it’s the picture of what will happen once you complete your BHAG that drives you to actually accomplish it.
Both pieces—the BHAG and the Vivid Description—are key in helping you realize your Envisioned Future. Let’s talk about both in greater detail.
Where do you want to go? That’s the question you’re answering when you form your Envisioned Future and identify your BHAG. In essence, your Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal is your dream, your world-changing idea, your life-changing legacy. If you want to get really starry-eyed, you can call it your destiny. The BHAG should establish a goal between ten and thirty years into your future. The description of the BHAG should be short—just one or two sentences. It should be easy to remember, easy to reference, and easy to splash across your wall in a motivational poster—if that’s your style.
When you accomplish the BHAG, that’s when you’ll know you’ve made it: it’s the finish line. Ideally, accomplishing that first BHAG will set you up to form new BHAGs—BHAGs you wouldn’t have even thought possible before accomplishing the first one. Like a runner who’s just completed her first half-marathon and now dreams of doing more, crossing one finish line inspires you to find new goals—new world-changing ideas, new life-changing legacies to pursue.
As you can imagine, your Core Values guide your BHAG a great deal. If you have a grandiose BHAG and a Core Purpose that outlines why you believe that goal matters so much, it could be tempting to try to get there any way you can. You might say, “I want my business to be this big, and make this much money, and reach this amount of people. And I’m going to cheat, rob, and steal to get there.” No! Your end goal is not going to be worth reaching if you trample your values to get there. You need to define how you’re going to operate on the way to accomplishing the BHAG. That’s one reason why it’s so important to outline your Core Ideology first.
When you start dreaming up your BHAG, think decades out. Give yourself plenty of time to do your world changing. If it’s too short term, you’re going to be looking at the low horizon, not the high horizon. Imagine that you tell your staff, “In the next eighteen months, we’re going to land a client!” Your employees are not going to get goosebumps of enthusiasm over that goal. And also, what happens once you land the client? It’s too easy and too short term to give you any operational clarity about what happens next. A high-level BHAG, on the other hand, is going to provide clarity about where you’re going and motivation to get there.
We all need a deeper cause to live for.
A good BHAG is going to be something you and your team can believe in. Why does it need to be “Big, Hairy, and Audacious”? It needs to be big because you want it to inspire others. If it’s not big enough, it won’t inspire people. It also needs to be hairy and audacious because it should scare people a little. There should be a chance that you might not be able to do it. The BHAG is not an easy target; it should be difficult. It should be possible—but if it’s right it will seem at least a little bit impossible.
It’s that little-bit-impossible part that provides the spark for the fire of inspiration. People lose heart when they’re not stretched, but when you’re asking your company to dream bigger and go further, you give people the opportunity to step into their purpose. You offer them a calling.
Good teachers manage to find the sweet spot between too hard, and not hard enough. They make the lesson hard enough to keep their students interested, but not so difficult that they get frustrated and check out. The BHAG should fit somewhere in that same sweet spot, perhaps erring on the side of too hard.
When John F. Kennedy announced his goal to land a man on the moon, that was a BHAG. The moon-shot BHAG inspired a nation and continues to inspire people to identify their own moon-shot goals.
A Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal holds people’s attention. It gives people the opportunity to live for something bigger than their day-to-day work—to choose to throw themselves into a project that they believe in.
For us personally, the BHAG is to help 10,000 leaders build Passion and Provision companies filled with Passion and Provision jobs, so we can impact the lives of 100,000 workers, who will then impact their families and community.
What would happen, if we actually managed to accomplish that BHAG? That could lead to 100,000 transformed lives; 100,000 people shifting from sleepwalking through their work days to doing work that helps them be their best selves, fully engage, and thrive. A hundred thousand people who go home to their families energized and optimistic, not drained and depressed! Ten thousand companies is a lot and we might not make it, but that’s the point. If you choose a goal that’s not big enough, it will fail to inspire as only a magnificent dream can.
But wait—we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What we just described starts to get into the Vivid Description, which is the final piece of forming a clear, complete, and compelling Vision. The Vivid Description is where you describe what will happen if you manage to accomplish your BHAG.
The Vivid Description paints a detailed picture of how the world will be different if we achieve our goals, helping us better understand what it will look like to have arrived. Essentially, it’s a longer narrative that elaborates on your BHAG. It is a written document that provides, in one or two pages, an emotional description about why that future matters. When you read a well-written Vivid Description, you might find that you and your team get misty-eyed. It touches a place so important to you, that it is difficult to suppress the emotions you feel when you allow yourself to really go there.
Imagine inviting your team to consider this question: “If we do [this], and we do it well—how will that change the world?” That’s what you describe in the Vivid Description. Bring situational experiences to life—think about the real people your accomplished BHAG might impact and how their lives will practically look different. Describe the emotional impact of those changes.
By the end, you will have an incredibly compelling picture of why it matters so much to press on toward the finish line.
When you have these discussions with your staff, the hope and inspiration that builds up is palpable. Those are the thoughts that keep the two of us going! We’ve also experienced receiving our team members’ help in holding us accountable to achieving the BHAG. Sometimes they’ll offer up a comment: “If we’re aiming for the BHAG—will this move help us get there?” Our employees have told us that they love being part of making the BIG dream a reality.
Conversations like that highlight not only the inspirational quality of a BHAG, but also the clarification that it provides, as spelled out in your Vivid Description. Every decision can be weighed against the high horizon goal. You’re able to form your immediate, intermediate, and long-term goals in terms of how they’ll help you achieve the future you envision.
So…don’t dream a little dream. Dream a big one. Then, get busy making it come true.