Go Big or Go Home

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood . . . . Make big plans, aim high in hope and work . . . .” – Daniel Burnham

As luck would have it, I needed a big hairy audacious goal in life and learned that that’s a thing at a higher education conference in Phoenix.

The weather was scorching hot in Phoenix, but since it was a dry heat, I believe it was technically chilly. I may be a bit fuzzy on the science. The conference was held at the swanky Arizona Biltmore where the Reagans honeymooned, Marilyn Monroe lounged by the pool, and Irving Berlin dreamed of a white Christmas, but at times I felt surrounded by my kind of people (who were taking care of the lawn). The Biltmore is also where John McCain conceded that Sarah Palin would not be the new Vice President of the United States, and that is an historic event regardless of your leanings.

Hands down, the most stimulating plenary at the conference was delivered by Jim Collins, the famed business consultant and author of classic books such as Built to Last and Good to Great. His lecture was worth even more than the two nights at the Biltmore.

Instead of recounting the twelve points of his great lecture, I will simply mention that Collins coined the acronym BHAG (bee-hag), which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. True story. There is actually a Wikipedia entry for this concept that will save me the trouble—it lists examples such as Microsoft’s “A computer on every desk and in every home,” and Google’s “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

It is a goal that is huge and bold and captivating but not impossible.

I need one of those. I seem to have lost all of mine sometime back.

Seven years ago, I started having chest pains. Scary. Instead of sudden death, I got a new diet, a daily purple pill, and an epiphany, which is not a bad deal given the choices. The epiphany was that if my life had ended in my late thirties—halftime from the perspective of an odds maker—there was no reason to complain. It had been a good run and anything more would just be bonus.

That was a nice thought for a while, but it is mathematically ridiculous and I am just now figuring that out. You see, the odds makers would now have my life a good chunk of the way into the third quarter. Are you following me here sports fans? So I had a great first half, but either the game ended at halftime or it didn’t, and looking at the rest of my life as the bonus round is goofy math. And it is no way to play.

I have a tendency to be either the tiniest bit existentially-angsty or maybe a whole lot. When Collins made it to point number ten or so in Phoenix and declared that a BHAG was a cure for existential angst, he had my attention.

I need a big hairy audacious goal to propel me forward because coasting is, well, anticlimactic, and to risk sounding whiny, increasingly boring. And if I’m being candid and I am so there, coasting has almost proven to be depressing.

No more, I declare. The game isn’t over. I am officially back in the game, and the second half is instantly better.

Things are really starting to look up.

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