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Business & Life Mantras, Effective Leadership, Structured Problem Solving

How to Set Yourself Up for Success (and not ambitious failure!)

I have recently gotten involved in quite a bit not only at work but also outside of work.  In all of these commitments, there is quite a bit that has to get done in order to achieve some pretty ambitious goals.  Jim Collins and Jerry Porras (featured in the Harvard Business Review) call these Big, Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs – see here).  Coming up with BHAGs is the easy part, but to break it down into a set of pragmatic activities to achieve the BHAG is where most people struggle.  The typical sequence of events that ends titled ambitious failure is as follows – set a BHAG, build momentum and initial enthusiasm, suddenly believe the BHAG can’t be achieved, and either 1) give up OR 2) deliver something completely different than the BHAG and believe achievement.  For those who like definitions, an ambitious failure is failure derived from not being able to pragmatically achieve the intended big, hairy, audacious goal.  Since this post, is a “How To”, the following is a prescriptive approach on how to set yourself up for success and not ambitious failure.

1. Take some time to think – There is a reason why the “Think” image is on the homepage of this blog. The fast-paced world we live in doesn’t really provide many opportunities to think.  Intuition and experience is typically called on to deliver solutions to business/personal challenges. However, I strongly believe the applicable intuition and experiences only come from thinking first, applying second.  So, take some time to think about the BHAG – the best tool or technique that helps me do this in mind mapping (see here).  And, seek advice or guidance from trusted advisors.  Some things to consider during the “think” phase include, ‘Is there a specific problem/challenge I am trying to solve?’, ‘What systems/controls/tools do I need to achieve my BHAG?’, and ‘What events/actions would stop me from achieving my BHAG?’

2. Break it down – Armed with a good understanding of your BHAG and the components of your BHAG (hopefully, from your mind map!), structure your BHAG into logical categories.  These categories should serve as the levers that will move you closer to achieving your BHAG.  To get you going, in the beginning, you should focus on no more than 5 levers.

3. Be the Man/Wo-man with a plan – Take each BHAG lever (from the previous activity) and identify 3 Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound (SMART) tasks that align with the lever.  This activity will give you a tactical plan/roadmap in getting to your BHAG.  Most people disregard defining the ‘Measurable’ and ‘Time-Bound’ attributes of their SMART tasks; however, in my view, these become the most important attributes in keeping you accountable in completing the task.  So, take the time to focus on all the attributes when coming up with SMART tasks.

4. Just do it! – Our friends at Nike couldn’t have set it better.  The only way your BHAG broken down with SMART tasks can fail is if you don’t do it.  This does take discipline, focus, and commitment.  Seek inspiration from friends, family, celebrities, athletes, mentors, or any idol of choice – achieving things big or small requires not only a plan but a commitment.

5. Do it all again – Hopefully, by the time you’ve reached to this step, you’ve achieved your initial BHAG and are now ready for another.  Whether it’s starting something completely new or extending/improving your initial BHAG, follow the process again.  Practice makes perfect!

As always, appreciate you reading Consult the MBA and feel free to leave any comments, questions or feedback!


2 thoughts on “How to Set Yourself Up for Success (and not ambitious failure!)

  1. Hi Srinivas,

    I think most people can be a lot more successful than they are right now. The main reason is (I think) that they don’t know what they want. A mind map can help them a lot.

    When I started to plan my future using visuals (mind maps, summaps, concept maps), I found out that life became a lot easier. I was more focused and I was moving forward much faster.

    I hope your readers will don’t just read your powerful message but also take action! This is the only way to set yourself up for success (after you brainstormed or mind mapped of course).

    Thanks for your strategy!

    Best regards,


    Posted by Arjen ter Hoeve | August 8, 2012, 10:25 am


  1. Pingback: 5 Simple Steps to Measuring Your Path to Success « Consult the MBA - September 4, 2012

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