Thursday, August 07, 2008

What's your BHAG?

Let's face it - everybody wants to innovate, but most people can't find the time, the urgency, the resources or the bandwidth. When they finally get all the people, dollars, resources and time, they then play it safe, choosing to innovate around small issues. Eventually everyone decides that innovation is just a new word for new product development.

Let me suggest instead the BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goal. When you set out to innovate, set up an outrageously audacious, aggressive, time consuming goal that needs to be met quickly. Then, figure out how to make it work. Why would you take this approach?

First, it focuses the minds of the people who are involved. Incremental innovation can be accomplished in a lot of ways, and people get tied up in the existing politics and procedures. A BHAG will force people to think differently and work differently.

Second, a BHAG, if supported by the executive team, will create a sense of excitement and urgency. A real BHAG will ripple through the organization - everyone will want to participate and see what happens. Who wants to be the roadblock for a BHAG?

Third, a BHAG demonstrates to the organization that change is important and will happen. If the BHAG is truly big and audacious, the individuals tasked to make it happen have to think differently, act differently, fund and staff the issue differently. They have no choice but to become innovative in how they think and react, staff the challenge and create results.

Fourth, a BHAG seems "worth it". Too often our innovation goals don't seem really all that valuable, because we are too safe and comfortable. Then, many people will shrug their shoulders and ask, is it really all that different or new? With a BHAG, it will be and the effort to get there will be worth it.

What would happen in your firm if the CEO demanded three big ideas to radically change the business, or three new product expanding or market opening ideas that had to be deployed in 3 months or less? During the second world war, when cargo ships were at a premium, Liberty ships required almost 250 days to build. As the demand increased, the builders were asked to create ships much faster. Eventually they innovated the design and building of the ship and got the average to 40 days, about 20% of the time it took when they started. This wasn't because of learning gains, it was because the US had a BHAG to build ships much faster. Setting the BHAG demanded that the shipbuilders think differently, organize differently and work differently. It also created a sense of urgency to know that their work was driving the war effort. If it can be done in shipbuilding (as in only one example) it can be done anywhere.

If your company is innovating, what's your BHAG? If you don't have one, do you believe that a clear definition of an urgent BHAG will make it easier to think differently and rally people to the idea or innovation?
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 8:12 AM


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