In the book Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the concept of the BHAG, (pronounced BEE-hag). BHAG is an acronym for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal – an incredible goal, unrestrained by limits of current beliefs, that motivates people and galvanizes them to action.
Motivated people accomplish more than the merely monitored worker. When you inspire someone, even the most audacious of goals is within reach.
Here is a recent example of a BHAG: provide a $100 computer to every child in the world.
Impossible? Unbelievable? Your reactions to the on-going results of this BHAG will definitely be framed by your attitude. You know, whether you see the glass as half empty or half full?
In a recent article in Working Knowledge for Business Leaders, author Martha Lagace writes about a new case study from the Harvard Business School about The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Foundation. The OLPC’s goal is exactly that: one laptop computer for every child in the world. This article is a fascinating study of the ups and the downs experienced by the OLPC. I encourage you to read about it. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5813.html
There is always a gap between strategy and execution; one laptop per child is no exception. Innovation, vision and strategy, always has to be translated to action. The execution of big ideas must contend with the conservative elements in every organization and government that resist change, as well as the complex bureaucracies that slow or stall decision-making and just getting things done. Although the OLPC has developed rugged, ultra low-cost laptops, these need to be bought and distribute by, or through, governments- the poster children for Byzantine structure and labyrinthine processes.
In their realization of creating a computer that can hold up to abuse as well as work well in areas with little available electricity, OLPC has made some amazing technological breakthroughs. It is little surprise that the biggest players in the computer market would think that these ideas could be useful for them, as well. Microsoft and Lenovo, to name just two, are marketing their own inexpensive laptops in India and China. These for-profit companies weren’t about to ignore a potentially lucrative market.
Obviously, a for-profit company always assumes that any great idea or new product will be quickly imitated by the competition. There is a larger lesson, though, like understanding to really achieve a big, hairy goal means allowing others to find the best way of realizing it. When OLPC began this huge undertaking, they inspired people to re-think and redesign computers. This BHAG persuaded, rather than inspired, the for-profit companies to move into the low-cost personal computer market. This competition has created more choices, more methods, and more distribution channels to give more children access to computers.
This means that though OLPC has shown the way, it doesn’t “own” the process, or have the last word on the design and features of low-cost computers. It can be hard, sometimes, to deal with the notion that others might have a better way to reach a goal. The only way to reach that really big goal, though, is to be open to the ideas and efforts of others, even when those others might be perceived as your internal or external competition.
The subtitle of Collins and Porras book is Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. If you keep people focused on a vision- that big, hairy audacious goal, it is quite amazing what can be achieved. Now that you know what a BHAG is, starting thinking big, yourself. If you would like to be part of the OLPC BHAG, do so by visiting their website at http://www.laptop.org.