The paradox of the BHAG

The paradox of the BHAG

I’m taking a break from answering questions this week to recap an event from last week, when I was fortunate enough to attend the Growth Summit 15 Event featuring Jim Collins.

As any of you who follow my blog will no doubt have figured out, I’m an unabashed fan of the idea sets from Jim’s books Built to Last, Good to Great, How the Mighty Fall, Great by Choice and also his lesser known but terrific and soon to be reissued first book Beyond Entrepreneurship.

I first saw Jim speak in the US in 2000 at a Fast Company conference just before the release of Good to Great and was captivated by the simple, powerful nature of the ideas. And even though I am even more familiar with the idea sets today, they are still simple, powerful, captivating “truths with a small t” (to borrow from Jim).

Jim describes himself first as a teacher, and indeed he turned the Melbourne Conference Centre plenary into one giant lecture hall. Armed with a deep knowledge of his subject and a wealth of stories, he worked through 12 questions to bring the ideas to life.

And judging by the questions asked from the crowd one idea resonated very strongly with many in the crowd: BHAGs – Big Hairy Audacious Goals.

I’ve always loved the BHAG (hairy feet and legs and all). The power of it lives in the inherent paradox it creates – here in Jim’s words:

“The power of the BHAG is that it gets you out of thinking too small. A great BHAG changes the time frame and simultaneously creates a sense of urgency. It’s a real paradox. So on the one hand, you’re not going to get a BHAG done in three years. You’re not going to get it done in five years. A really good BHAG probably has a minimum length of about a decade, and many take longer than that…

On the other hand, because it’s so big and so audacious and so hairy it increases the sense of urgency… Because the only way you can achieve something that big is an absolutely obsessed, monomaniacal, overwhelming intensity and focus that starts today and goes tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next day for 365 days and then for 3,650 days – that’s how you do it.”

You can read more on BHAGs in this Inc article.

When I’m talking with clients about BHAGs the tendency is often to not just go big but go impossible. And to bring things back to earth, Jim had this piece of advice for people at the conference: “Good BHAGs are built on understanding. Bad BHAGs are built on bravado.”

There has to be some basis for believing that it is something you have an even shot (or slightly better) at achieving. All the will in the world won’t get you there if the underlying capabilities don’t exist or it can’t be built.

I could easily do a series around the idea sets, and for anyone else who was fortunate to see Jim at the event, I hope you came away as energised as I did. For everyone else you can download the 12 questions used as the syllabus for the lecture for free from Jim’s website.

Every business or person reading this blog will benefit from them – even if like me you are familiar with the idea sets you can always think more deeply about applying them.

You may be wondering what the BHAG has to do with brand. Brands are the result of the promises you keep. The promises you make are the result of your BHAG, your purpose, your values, etc – it’s all connected.

* * *

Back to your questions next week so don’t miss the opportunity to get your brand questions answered by posting them on twitter @michelhogan or emailing me at [email protected].

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments