What’s the Big Idea?


Here’s what it takes to get your business to go viral. Hint: Visionary companies do this.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that one of the characteristics of visionary companies is their cult-like company culture. This characteristic was recognized by authors James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book called?Built to Last. Another quality of visionary companies they noted is their appetite for Big Hair Audacious Goals; they called them?BHAGS.

I’ve noticed this among many of my clients as well, but it’s not just the goal or the idea. It’s just as much about having the guts to lay it all on the line to achieve that goal.

I’m not talking about reckless risk or about getting bogged down in endless?mission statement exercises either. I’m talking about setting your sites on greatness and getting your team on board with it. Big goals are so clear to everyone that a mission statement is often unnecessary. Sometimes we get so caught up in planning, goal setting and mission statements that we fail to take action. The space program didn’t need to articulate its goal when they decided to go to the moon. Everyone knew what it was and what to do to get there.

Big goals are more than sales numbers. They’re awesome achievements – the type of thing that most people think you’re crazy for trying.

One of my clients set the goal of becoming the top printing company for their city within one year. Now that may not seem like a big hairy audacious goal to you, but they were number 14 when they set that goal and some of their competitors had been in the printing business for over 50 years with well-established and loyal clients. They had their work cut out for them. The only way they were going to meet their objective was to gain more market share by winning over some of those clients. That’s exactly what they did, achieving their goal in under 8 months.

But I almost hesitate to share that example with you because I think big goals are more than sales numbers. They’re awesome achievements. The type of thing that most people think you’re crazy for trying.

The important thing to remember is that it’s almost not the goal that’s important. Anyone can set a big goal and in fact, many companies often do. But only those who are committed to executing that goal–day in and day out–will succeed at it.

Enough planning already. Find your big idea and get on with it. Setting the goal and even planning it, get you nowhere. You are not on your way toward achieving great things until something is accomplished. Anyone can set a goal. Real success only happens with execution.

A few days ago I was watching a recording of the Sunday news show?This Week With George Stephanopoulos?and he was interviewing Reddit Co-Founder, Alex Ohanian about business success. Now if you don’t know, Reddit is one of the most successful social media sites and receives millions?of visitors each day. When asked what entrepreneurs need to do to become successful, he was insistent on urging them to “just launch their ideas already.” He said that, “They get caught up with the idea.” He called it?wantrepreneurship. He also said that he doesn’t think he’s ever had an original idea. All ideas are derivative. They’re just a remix. What matters is execution.

I couldn’t agree more. You need to have big hairy audacious goals and they don’t have to be entirely original. You just need to be fully committed to them. In?Built to Last,?Porras and Collins show?that?when Boeing got into the jet engine business, McDonnell Douglas was the major player at the time, but Boeing, known for taking big gambles, entered the market with the 707 in 1958 and never looked back. They continue to dominate the jet engine market and have since acquired McDonnell Douglas.

Do you know?what?3M?stands for? You all know who 3M is, right? They make a lot more than?Post It?notes. With more than 30 Billion in sales and 55,000 products, 3M sells everything from office supplies to highly sophisticated medical equipment.

The company’s name, 3M, stands for the?Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Companybecause that’s what they were originally – a mining company in Minnesota that excavated stone. In the late 1920’s, 3M managers saw the limited scope of their business and encouraged employee innovation. Their new products were a gigantic leap from the mining industry and they wouldn’t even exist today as a company had they not set big hairy audacious goals and encouraged the type of working environment to execute those goals.

Team Involvement

So how do you come up with a big hairy idea? Start by asking?your employees. If you want to build a cult-like culture within your company; if you want team members who work late, take responsibility and accomplish tasks above and beyond expectations rather than time clock punchers who can’t wait to run out the door 10 minutes before 5:00 each night, then gather your entire team together and let them select your next big goal.

Don’t?set a goal yourself, then dish?it out to your company and expect them to buy into it. They won’t. You need to get them involved with the decision so they’re motivated to take ownership of it. I can’t underscore this point enough. Get your team involved with the decision. Have a contest and vote on it. Bring everyone together in a room and?brainstorm some ideas.

You can’t achieve your goals without your team. If they’re part of the decision, they will be much more likely to buy in. Get support from key leaders in your organization and the rest will fall in line.

You also want to make sure the goal you select is realistic. It should be a major accomplishment, but not out of reach. If it’s too unrealistic, your team may not take it seriously. But don’t be afraid to plan big, either. I’ve found that visionary companies are not afraid to lay everything on the line. Just make sure that your goal is actually attainable.

Your Strategy

Does your goal need a strategy? If so, then design a plan with milestones and rewards. Don’t get bogged down with planning, though. Start executing your strategy as soon as possible. You’ll need to discuss with your team how you will achieve your goal and make sure everyone is on the same sheet of paper. Be sure everyone knows when the deadline is and do not let them procrastinate. Procrastination is a serious goal killer.


Execution is behavior. It’s the things you do every day that bring you closer and closer to your goal. Failure often comes when people set goals, but don’t change their behavior to match the?intended?outcome. Their intentions are always good, but they go about it the wrong way. You need to act the part. If you have to,?fake it until you make it, as they say.

It Starts at the Top

Your team won’t be into it if you’re not. Your job is to keep the goal in the forefront of their minds every day. It should be posted everywhere. Make it a part of your email signature and inner office literature. Bring it up in every meeting. Better yet, have others carry the message. That’s where motivation comes in…


When I consult with nonprofits, I often hear the same question: How do you motivate people who aren’t getting paid? Well, what they don’t realize is that often paid people need to be motivated, too.

I tell them that they need to identify the leaders in the organization. Sometimes, a leader may not be someone who holds any significant leadership role and is just a person that other members of the group look to for direction. If you can get these key people on board and working toward your goal, the others will follow.?Allow them the autonomy of creating a strategy to meet milestones.

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” – Dan Pink

Make sure there is incentive for them to achieve the goal. What do they get? It doesn’t always have to be a monetary reward, but it must have value. Bonuses are good, but?studies show?that people are motivated more by having a sense of purpose. This is where you need to know your employees and what motivates them. Tie that motivation into attaining your big goal.

Measure Progress

Don’t forget to set milestones and make sure your team is aware of each one. Provide small rewards for meeting those milestones. Rewards along the way are much more powerful than a reward that is distant, even if it’s much bigger. This may even have your team reporting to YOU when milestones occur.

If you get behind, then you’ll have to find a way to make up the lost ground. You don’t want your lack of progress to compound itself.

Just be sure to follow your plan, keep pushing forward and stay motivated and you’ll achieve that goal. Once you do, your team will urge you to set the next one. What a great company culture that would be.

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • I always thought goals were a waste of time. It’s a mass misconception that the uber successful people in the world write down their goals and recite them daily and work them into their plans and bla bla bla. It’s old thinking. Successful people in business aren’t thinkers, they’re doers. You alluded to this in your post and I’ve seen you mention it before. People need to quit sitting around dreaming of success and get on with it. Make it happen. Successful people are always taking action, always moving their company forward and looking for the next move. they’re three, four steps ahead of everyone else. They get things done and move on to the next step. They’re doers.

    • Vince, I’m not so sure goals are a waste of time, but I do agree that sometimes we fall victim of the process and forget that it is behavior and actions that really drive success.

  • Nice post since I’m one of your client’s you could have used Airmakers as an example –case study. nice work!

    • Hey Van, yes, you’ve been a great and loyal client for over five years. Airmakers is a perfect example for this post. You set goals, but it’s really your dedication to attaining your objectives that does the job for you. Nice work to you as well. We’re glad we could be a part of your success. We’ll mention you in the next article.


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