Jul 28, 2011

Just Start It

The BHAG – big, hairy, audacious goal – is an attractive idea. Just think of the results of going after a goal greater than yourself. It’s something that will change you, force you to innovate and help you achieve a whole new level of success. It’s a goal of magnitude, and that’s exciting … at least on paper.

BHAG’s are exhilarating to dream about, but crippling to implement. The excitement they elicit also creates fear and anxiety, and a tidal wave of negative mind chatter. What happens if we don’t achieve it? What happens if we succeed? Look how much work is involved. How do we get started? We don’t have the resources. How will we defend our position once we get there? How can we get it all done in such a short amount of time?

The magnitude of the project shifts from excitement to procrastination.

Just Start It

Nike’s tagline, “Just Do it”, is iconic, because it speaks to the BHAG mindset. Stop complaining, just do it. Don’t make excuses, get it done. It’s not the goal that’s stopping you, it’s you.

Emotionally I love the “Just Do It” mindset. It just has a fuck it attitude that I find very appealing. But as much as I like the notion, I still find myself coming face-to-face with procrastination when I work on a BHAG. The bigger the goal, the harder it is to overcome resistance to get started.

We need a different tagline, Just Start It. It’s great to dream of the bigger future, but what really needs to happen is a first step.

It’s a little like losing weight and getting into shape. You know what to do; no one has to tell you. But when you think about all the work it takes to get back into shape, procrastination rears its ugly head. Rather than thinking about it, all you have to do is get started. Put on your running shoes and walk out the door.

BHAG’s require massive change

The reason BHAGs can be so powerful is they force dramatic change. You fundamentally have to change your behaviors to achieve a stretch goal.

Let’s look at this from a business context. Companies have predictable revenue plateaus: $1 million, $5 million, $10 million, $25 million, $100 million and $1 billion. To break through a revenue plateau, a company has to change its operating structure, business model, talent management and go-to-market strategy. A company can’t grow to $10 million in revenue with the operating infrastructure of a $3 million dollar business. They have to implement the infrastructure of a $10 million business before they can pop up to it.

BHAG’s require massive change. When we think of what is involved in changing it can be overwhelming. So break it down into individual steps.

Try a 30 day challenge

I love Matt Cutts’ TED Talk, Try Something New For 30 Days.

Matt says, “It turns out 30 days is just about the right amount of time to add a habit, or subtract a habit like watching the news, from your life.” He’s right. Rather than focusing on the larger project or the life changing habit, just start something new for 30 days. That first step will get you on your way, but more importantly it will start the process of change. The new habits will stick with you, and before you know it massive change will be happening without the fear and anxiety of a BHAG.

A million little improvements

You’ll often hear successful entrepreneurs say, “It was a 20 year overnight success.” There are no silver bullets or secrets to success, just a million little projects. Each project builds on the last, and helps to propel the organization forward. Just by putting one foot in front of the other you can achieve greatness.

The challenge is not to get caught up in the dreaming, strategizing and planning of the BHAG. The challenge is to Just Start It. Once you’re moving, everything else will sort itself out.

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