Monday, December 15, 2008

Lunar or Looney?

The boss marches in to a company meeting this week and announces an objective for 2009 so preposterous, so off the wall, you start hearing the faint opening strains of the "Twilight Zone" echoing in your head.

Doo-doo, doo-doo... Doo-doo, doo-doo ....

The idea is so "out there" because, for starters, the technology and the systems to support it haven't been invented yet. In other words, the boss is trying to sell you on a concept with slightly less credibility than a fairy tale because stuff he is blabbering about does not exist. Could you be faulted for thinking this guy is trying to play Peter Pan on your time and dime?

But, what if those events actually unfolded this week in your organization as you look ahead to a wildly unpredictable 2009?

How you feel about the boss and his "vision" may depend to a large degree on the value you place on the lessons of history. Because it is only through viewing events and people through the crystal clear picture of the past, are we able to recognize what is likely to surface from murky and muddied oceans of the future. Study the lessons of history and you detect patterns that allow you to a safe, steady course - that many others will view as wildly risky. The challenge of history is to recover what can be learned from the past, introduce it to the present and use it as a launching pad for the next chapter your brand is about to write in 2009.

What is about to happen to your organization over the next 12-24 months has happened previously with a different company, under different circumstances but rest assured, it has already happened. As a king named Solomon once mentioned, "There is nothing new under the sun".

Picture yourself in attendance at another company meeting, but one being held on September 12, 1962 at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

The idea was later proven correct.

The boss just didn't get to see it happen.

How would JFK's sagacious remarks resonate within your organization if you imagine the following?:

SPACE = New markets and opportunities afforded by the Digital Economy.
SPACECRAFTS = New technology
SOVIETS = Your #1 competitor
SAGE = Visionary leader

Visionary leaders tend to rely on history to help determine if the ship is on sailing on a course towards the Port of Opportunity or an Iceberg Called Disaster. Jack Kennedy may have been listening and taking notes when his predecessor in the White House, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was quoted as saying, “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him”. As a leader willing to run the risk of being ridiculed, Kennedy set the wheels in motion for a project that entailed the guys actually tasked with trying to put the pieces in place, would have no idea how they would be able to complete the project.

And these guys WERE rocket scientists!

JFK shared his vision at a time when the idea of reaching an unknown celestial body 240,000 miles away with a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, would have been deemed impossible. No one had yet assembled rockets with a precision better than the finest watch, able to carry the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival; send it with a man to the moon and return him safely to earth while re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, generating heat about half of the temperature of the sun.

And, oh, by the way, we need this done before the end of the decade.

Oh, and one more thing, we're lagging behind our main competitor on this one and we're already two years into this decade.

History has shown NASA was able to pull it off, when Neil radioed back to the guys in Houston, that as of July 20, 1969 his small step on a lunar surface signalled a giant leap for mankind. As it turns out, there was nothing looney about JFK's lunar vision.

In his landmark work "Good to Great", Jim Collins determined that a B.H.A.G. (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) as a key element that propelled a few great companies to a level of greatness unparalleled by thousands of others. Collins points to the JFK "Moon Speech" as an example of a B.H.A.G. that galvanized an uncommon effort from otherwise common people in the pursuit of an uncommon objective. Other B.H.A.G. examples include:

GOOGLE: Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.
BOEING: Bet the pot on the B-17, 707 and 747.
SONY: Change the worldwide image of Japanese products as poor quality; create a pocketable transistor radio.
DISNEY: Build Disneyland - and build it to our image, not industry standards.

At one time or another, every great company has confronted the swirling seas of uncertainty with bold initiatives that leave competitors in their wake. New markets, unforeseen threats, changing technology and tough competitors aren't about to pack up and go away anytime soon. Nothing has really changed in terms of business challenges other than the speed of change, now approaching Mach I.

Unprecedented change awaits in 2009.

Will it be forced upon you?

Or dictated by you?

Does your organization have a B.H.A.G. for 2009 and beyond?

"I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul... we're required to do these things just as salmon swim upstream" NEIL ARMSTRONG

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