During my MBA I got introduced to the concept of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (or BHAG) for the first time in my life. I remember it well since the picture in the PowerPoint slide depicted a hairy monster-looking creature. How this monster could have anything to do with the class I was in and even with business in general?
The power of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal soon became more clear. And I learned the way it can help to realize your dreams. Whether they are business-based or more personal. In short, creating your own BHAG will help you to achieve your goals in life and will set you on the right path to success.
What is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal?
The term “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” originates in a book entitled Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. One of the authors of the book is Jim Collins, whom you also might recognize as the writer of the well-known management book Good to Great. The authors define a BHAG (pronounced BEE-hag) as ‘an audacious 10-to-30-year goal to progress towards an envisioned future.’
The idea behind the BHAG
The idea behind the BHAG is quite interesting. Instead of the normal mid-term goals that companies use (for instance to grow their sales or to reach a certain turnover), the Big Hairy Audacious Goal is far more strategic and focused on the long term. The goal has to be very ambitious to be considered a BHAG. It should be so ambitious that people might frown or laugh in disbelieve when you tell them about the BHAG. The BHAG may sound impossible to reach. However, this actually is the power of the BHAG. By setting the bar incredibly high, you push yourself out of your comfort zone. This means you will be able to achieve things you probably wouldn’t have believed to be possible.
If you can dream it, you can do it
Creating a BHAG in an organization creates a common mission. It provides a vision of the future that people can relate to and that energizes them to dedicate their time to. Working on realizing a BHAG created a whole different level of meaning when compared to the standard mid-term goals of increasing sales or revenue. The BHAG does not only have value in an organizational context though. Creating a BHAG for your own personal life forces you to envision your own future and gives you a goal to work towards. The BHAG will become a goal that challenges you while energizing you at the same time to achieve it. Don’t be afraid that your BHAG will be too far out there. Walt Disney has this wonderful quote: ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’.
How to create your own BHAG?
When it comes to creating your own goal, it may be interesting to use some creative ways to discover what it is that you would like to achieve in life. A great way to start creating your BHAG is to pretend that the future is already here. It is 30 years from now and you get to see your ideal situation. How does your life look? Which are your achievements, that you are proud of? What will others say about you? Do you have a general picture in mind? Hold on to that and start making it more concrete.
To do so, you can use one of the methods below to spark even more creativity in shaping your BHAG.
News of the future
Write an article about yourself for the newspaper 30 years from now. What will be the catchy ‘read-all-about-it’ headline? What is the text of the article? And which photo will be printed next to it? Instead of creating an article for the newspaper you can also envision yourself as a late night show guest. What would be the reason you are there? How would the talk show host introduce you to the public? Write down the questions of the interview that follow and the answers your future-self will give.
Grab as many magazines as you can find and start browsing through them. Which images, words of sentences strike your eye? Tear them out and put them aside. After a while, review the harvest. Is there a connection? Select the pieces that you like best and arrange them on a large sheet of paper. Glue them together to create your own vision board for your BHAG. You can also use the blank sheet of paper to make a drawing or a painting that portrays your BHAG.
It often is the case that you do not know yet what your BHAG actually is. Even if you are not yet sure, using these techniques will help you in starting to get a clearer picture of what it might be. You can start a vision board for instance and keep adding things to it during the course of one year. Eventually, you will start seeing a clearer pattern of what it is you want for yourself in life.1.
Active and passive steps
As soon as you know your BHAG, you will start putting effort towards reaching this goal. In part, this is because you want to reach the goal and you are actively setting steps towards it. However, there is also a very large subconscious effect. You will set steps in the right direction without making an active effort.
It may sound a bit strange, but once the BHAG is settled into your mind, the choices you make and actions you take will align with your goal. For instance, if your BHAG is to live on a deserted island, you may sign up for a survival week to get trained (active step). But in addition to that, you will probably also lead a minimalistic lifestyle. This may not be a conscious decision you take (passive step), but it simply doesn’t make sense to buy a lot of stuff that you will have to sell later on.
A few tips when working with a BHAG
1. Besides a personal BHAG, you can also create a shared goal that you work on together.
You often can combine different personal goals in one shared BHAG. Even if it might take some time to connect the dots. With us, for instance, one had a BHAG of creating a way of working and living as free as possible, while the other wanted to travel the world. Our combined BHAG eventually became to create a business aboard our sailing catamaran
2. It is important to realize that the BHAG isn’t a fixed thing
A BHAG can change over time or you can achieve your BHAG and create a new one for the next phase in your life. It is important to realize that the BHAG isn’t a fixed thing. You can probably best see it as a living thing (hence the monster), which grows over time and may change now and then.
3. Remind yourself of the BHAG to help keep your eye on the prize
It helps if you are constantly reminded of your BHAG. Being reminded of the BHAG helps you to keep your eye on the prize. To remind yourself, you can take a photo from a magazine that refers to your BHAG and stick it to your bathroom mirror. This way it is one of the first things you see every day as you wake up. Or hang a small object that refers to your BHAG on your key ring. You can also make a photo of the vision board (if you created one) and use it as your desktop wallpaper
4. The BHAG is a long-term goal
The BHAG is long-term. It is a vision for the future with a time period of 10-30 years. This means that actually need a lot of time to achieve it. It may not take 30 years, but don’t get discouraged after two years. Enjoy the journey as much as the endpoint and celebrate each step that gets you closer to your goal