If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am a bit of a change agent (or at least I aspire to be) and an innovation catalyst. I am very focused on accelerating corporate and large scale economic and ecologic sustainability (gulp) through a process called co-creation or collaborative innovation. I firmly believe that it takes a committed cross-organizational effort to address some of the environmental and economic challenges that are now front and center globally. You could call this aspiration a “BHAG”, thanks to James Collins and James Porras.

From Wikipedia – The term Big Hairy Audacious Goal (“BHAG”) was proposed by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their 1996 article entitled Building Your Company’s Vision. A BHAG encourages companies to define visionary goals that are more strategic and emotionally compelling. In the article, the authors define a BHAG (pronounced BEE-hag) as a form of vision statement “…an audacious 10-to-30-year goal to progress towards an envisioned future.”

A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines. —Collins and Porras, 1996
Collins and Porras also used this concept in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

Change and innovation requires human energy. It requires that we move beyond our automatic pilot, our comfort zones, and sometimes it requires us to consider entirely new ways of being or seeing! Change and innovation require work of all kinds. The work of attention. The work of planning, questioning, investing, building, and perhaps most importantly – the work of recovering and restarting after inevitable setbacks and failures that happen along the way!

So given that, why bother? Why do any of us take the time to set big hairy audacious goals? For the sake of what I say? It’s clearly a lot of work! I can attest to this personally… as you’ll see by the timestamp of this post – whenever I finally get it done!

Why bother? Well, do we really want the status quo, really??? Many of us don’t want the status quo at all. We have gripes, concerns, worries, aspirations, dreams, ideas… Some of us are very vocal about these “hungers” for something to be different, and others bury the thoughts, perhaps because they feel helpless, or “too tired”, or simply unqualified to drive change. Or perhaps because it’s not considered socially acceptable to discuss such controversial (dare I say politically loaded) concerns?

One of the best and stickiest tools that I have used in my collaborative innovation efforts is the Bigger Game Model. I’ve written about the Bigger Game numerous times over the years, and I want you all to know that it is still foundational to how I approach “BHAGS”. In fact, it’s foundational to how I approach life as a whole. And, if you read my “integral business meshworks – part 1”, I can tell you that I see some pretty interesting parallels here as well. Why would you bother to form such an integral business meshwork – whatever that really is? Probably because you are recognizing the need for wholistic systems level change – and you know that it will take a network of like minded yet diverse people (across multiple organizations) to help drive this change.

For the sake of what then? Well, the interesting thing is that we all come to the table with our own unique reasons. In the case of accelerating the move to enterprise sustainability – some may come to the table because of a concern about global warming. Others may be much more concerned about dependency on foreign oil. Others simply want to grow the market for their sustainability technologies or services. And yet, we can find a common “BHAG”, a compelling purpose for working together, and a “Bigger Game”. We can…

Now, it’s not as simple as dreaming up this joint compelling purpose, BHAG or Bigger Game; not at all. Execution is crucial to any significant endeavor, and Bigger Games are particularly vulnerable – certainly during early days. Bigger Game players (a.k.a. leaders) must constantly re-assess their game, leveraging the left brain analytic “just the facts” skills that are so abundant in the business world. And they must also tap back into the right brain, compelling purpose places – and make sure that the work (remember that hard work???) is still compelling, for all the allies that are so crucial to achieving the BHAG (big hairy audacious goal). And over the course of 12 – 18 months, leaders should be prepared to change or “morph” the game -because the world in which the game is to be played will be shifting.

Why bother though? Because it feels good! Working toward something meaningful with other smart committed (and hopefully fun) people is the very best reason – and if you’re really lucky, you will also get paid to do it!

Smarter Planet anyone? Green Buildings? Healthy schools? Healthy families? Clean and abundant water? What’s your compelling purpose? What’s the name of your game?