Big Hairy Audacious Goal(s)! I heard this term for the first time in a book about how to build great companies. The book was called Built To Last and it was and still is one of the better books on business around. One of the concepts in the book was those truly great companies…ones that last and last and have an enormous impact for a long, long time have BHAGs. Big goals. Hairy (meaning complex, tough, hard to replicate) goals. Audacious (meaning seemingly ridiculous) goals. In short, they set out to change the world, to innovate, to revolutionize. If and when they do it they will be very successful companies. Sometimes they do it once and they are done. Other companies do it and do it again…and again…and again. Those are truly companies that are built to last…heck, not only last but dominate. Very, very few can do this repeatedly.
GE – General Electric is an enormous company. They’ve been in existence for decades. They actively set out to be the industry leader in every business they operate in. If they can’t be #1 they get out of the business. That is a BHAG. To be the best or not at all. They have changed businesses time and time again and are the best at what they set out to do.
Microsoft – A long time ago when Dad was a little kid everyone on earth didn’t have a computer in their pocket like you all do today. No one had computers except big companies. Bill Gates and the Microsoft guys knew that would change and decided that they would make sure that when people started using computers they would be using the Microsoft operating system which would be easy to use. They succeeded and dominated the operating system market. Almost every single computer on earth had an operating system from Microsoft. A few guys in a garage took over the computer industry. They made Microsoft one of the most successful companies on earth…and Bill Gates the wealthiest man on earth. BHAG!
Apple – Apple was also in the computer industry. They competed against Microsoft and even with superior products almost were put out of business by them. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he helped start. Later he was rehired to save it from extinction. He always had BHAGs (some were his undoing). He wanted to make computers that would change the world…computers that were vastly superior to other computers. When that didn’t work he decided to just make other stuff vastly better! Music players, phones, television! Today if you listen to music you do it on an iPod. You used to have to go to the store to buy the song and then buy a device to play the song on. Now I can find, try, purchase, and enjoy millions of songs in seconds. I carry a 10,000 song library in my pocket. Almost 80% of the music purchased today is sold via iTunes. He decided the phone needed to be reinvented. The iPhone is a more powerful computer than my first 3 combined. We use our ‘phones’ to communicate in ways never before possible. Apple is the best example of a BHAG driven company today. They set out to revolutionize something and have been wildly successful.
It is also interesting to see the difference between GE and Apple versus Microsoft. GE and Apple set out to change the world and find ways to do it. Microsoft seems to be a one-hit-wonder…they changed the world for sure but haven’t been able to redirect that vision and passion to replicate it. Maybe they tried and failed…or maybe they just don’t have a BHAG. I think the latter. The reason I say this is Bill Gates is still out changing the world. He is actively solving the world’s biggest problems through the work of his foundation. I believe that GE has built BHAGs into their company. They decide to do it better than anyone or not to do it at all. That is why they’ve been so successful. Microsoft’s walked out the door with Bill Gates. Microsoft hasn’t had anything earth-shattering since he left. It will be interesting to see how Apple fairs. My guess is they will follow the path of Microsoft. So much of what they are died along with Steve Jobs.
Regardless, you can easily see that BHAGs are rare. Most people do not dream big…or big enough. Others dream big but aren’t committed enough to see their big dreams come true. BHAGs are hard to dream up and even harder to execute and make a reality. Does that make them any less important? Should we not have them? If you fail do you give up and never try again or regroup and keep going.
It is a fine line. I’m reminded of several quotes.
- “Try, try again! Then give up! There’s no use in being a darn fool about it!”
- “Obsessed is the word lazy people use to describe the committed.”
- “Be the change in the world you want to see.”
You can set goals that are too big, that you have no business trying to accomplish and don’t have the skill to accomplish. Conversely, you can sit around and never try too hard and waste your talents and not accomplish everything that you could.
“Aiming too high and not getting all the way there is a lot better than aiming too low and hitting dead on.” That is where BHAGs come. I figure if it works for companies and helps them endure for decades it can help me live a long successful life and help teach my children how to do the same.
Figure out early what it is you want to set out to do with your precious time in life. Then spend every minute of every day doing it. If you do that I promise you will always be a happy, fulfilled person. The times I’ve been most fulfilled was when I was driving hard towards some mission…whatever it was. It was defined by me and changed often…but overall the big goal has always remained the same.
My BHAG? I want the Dean Family to take on the world and win! I want to live and grow with human beings who advance the ball down the field, eventually landing in a better place. I want to build a family that endures and puts more into the world than they take out. I want to be married to my best friend my whole life and grow up great children who marry their best friend and who grow up great children. I want to go to work, do meaningful work, and always increase my skills and influence. I want to dedicate my time to worthwhile activities and not waste a precious minute. I want to be financially stable and build lasting wealth that helps me accomplish my goals. I think this Dad’s Bible thing is a BHAG for me. It will likely span years for me to complete it. But hopefully will be something that makes you and I have a stronger relationship.
Have I accomplished my BHAG? No. Has every day felt like I’ve made progress? No. I promise you this though that having some big guiding goals has helped me make more progress than not. When times were tough I kept doing what I knew was right because I knew it helped accomplish the goal. When times were good I doubled down my efforts to accomplish as much as possible. When diversions arise I have a test to ensure the divergent path makes sense. Everything keeps me focused on the BHAG goal!
So have a BHAG! Maybe yours is more specific than mine, bigger than mine, smaller, whatever…have one! Your whole life!
Love you so much!
[originally published] 3/2/2015 (originally wrote a few years ago but posted now…when I realized I wasn’t delivering on one of my BHAGs!)