Set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal

You need a Big Hairy Audacious Goal aka BHAG. When noted business author and researcher Jim Collins was looking to describe a big organization-wide goal, he came up with the idea of BHAGs that help businesses think about a long-term vision. Many goals are tactical and help you come up with what you need to do next. In today’s post, I want to encourage you to set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal to move beyond the tactical to focus on strategy and vision.

In 2013, I set a Big Hair Audacious Goal for myself. I wanted to write an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News. Although it is my local paper, DMN is the 19th largest newspaper in the country with a daily circulation over 40,000.

When I set the goal, I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish it, but I knew that I had written for smaller newspapers in the past. I had no contacts with the DMN nor did I have any idea what topic I might be able to write.

But the goal was something I wanted to do so I set it unsure of how I would be able to do it. I started keeping an eye out for potential topics. I contacted our university news communication team who was enormously helpful. I kept an eye on the goal as I went through the year.

When President Obama announced his college affordability plan, I knew I had a possibility. I quickly wrote an article, got feedback, and submitted the piece. On August 26th, my op-ed appeared in the Dallas Morning News entitled, Will Obama’s ‘Hail Mary’ against college costs be a win for students?

In less than nine months, I went from having no clue how to publish an op-ed to holding it in my hand.

This is the power of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

The best BHAGs help you develop systems and processes to achieve them. This blog is the latest iteration of my Dallas Morning News BHAG. I found that I liked writing shorter pieces and looking out for current events. This blog gives me an outlet for this type of writing that I can directly tie back to my BHAG. I developed a system for thinking about higher education and how to help teach people about what is happening in higher education.

The best BHAGs also stretch you, but are doable. Collins suggests thinking about BHAGs that have a 50-70% chance of success. My belief is that this is a great way to think about a stretch goal. I had written an op-ed in the Birmingham News, which is the #69 largest newspaper so I had some sense of how I should write the article based on that experience.

The goal of a BHAG is to get you to think “big.” We all tend to think small and this is a great way to make progress. As the old saying goes, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. However, there are times when we need to shake things up and make significant progress. We need to challenge ourselves to think differently about the work that we do. BHAGs are perfect for this purpose because they give us the encouragement of a doable goal, but one that requires we develop different processes from what we typically use. Just thinking and striving for a BHAG can lead to breakthroughs that we could not have achieved any other way.

As you set your goals for next year, set one Big Hairy Audacious Goal. You only need one (setting too many can send you in too many directions). Even if you don’t achieve your BHAG, I bet you’ll be amazed by the progress you are able to make in the area where you strive next year.

Take a leap. Take a chance. Have fun. Achieve big things.