Having a big hairy audacious goal.

Two books I've been gleefully immersed in over the winter—Shivering Inside: A Novel on the Life of John Winston Lennon, Volume Two by Jude Kessler, and Keith Richards: The Biography by Victor Bockris—have hit home for me the importance of having a boldly ambitious dream.

Both Lennon and Richards, as founding fathers and organizational movers of their respective bands, had an impossible goal that they passed onto their band mates.

The mission of Lennon and The Beatles, while still playing dank cellar clubs in Liverpool, was to make it to the "toppermost of the poppermost" and be "bigger than Elvis." The mission of Richards and the Rolling Stones was to single-handedly resurrect rock & roll—which had suffered a quick death several years earlier with the loss of rock's biggest stars. (In Keith's words: "I had to keep the dream alive.")

Gutsy goals for guys barely out of their teens.

But having an outrageous dream is characteristic of great teams and organizations everywhere. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in their management classic Built to Last, call it the "big hairy audacious goal."

But whatever you call it, having a thoroughly unreasonable objective that grabs people's attention and disrupts their thinking can incite a team to accomplish what they might not otherwise—like Amazon Kindle's goal: "Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than sixty seconds." How could that not get everyone's notice?

Of course such teams must also have what it takes to execute on the mission and goal. Without an orientation to action, it's all talk and no walk. But a great team has that combination of dream and drive—whether it's an executive board, a town council, a political action committee, a day-care staff… or a rock & roll band.

Oren Harari, in his book Break From the Pack: How to Compete in a Copycat Economy puts it well:

I've discovered that employees in trailblazing, pack-leading organizations work their butts off, but they have a great time doing it.

It's a lot of fun to work with a team of passionate fellow crazies doing what everyone else says is ridiculous and impossible.

Examples abound of teams and organizations that have embraced an audacious mission, goal, mantra, or cause—from Twitter's mission to "become the pulse of the planet" to Target's mantra to "democratize design."

Of course you can always play it safe and secure. You don't have to aim for the sun. But if an ambitious goal can bring your team or organization to life—and put the world on notice that you're not screwing around—what's to lose except a little sleep?

As Bono immodestly remarked when he was collecting Grammy awards for U2 a few years back: "We're re-applying for the job of best band in the world."


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31 Comments

  1. A couple of footnotes are in order...

    1. Jude Kessler's brand new historical novel on John Lennon, "Shivering Inside," takes place between December 1961 (when Brian Epstein took over the Beatles) and April 1963. Her earlier novel on Lennon ("Shoulda Been There") runs from his birth to December 1961. I highly recommend both books to any Beatlephile. They are available at http://www.ontherockbooks.com/

    2. Victor Bockris's 1992 bio of Keith Richards is not to be confused with the recent autobiography of Richards, "Keith"—which I have yet to read. Bockris does an especially good job at unpacking the "team dynamics" (my term) of the early Stones, especially the Richards-Jagger-Jones triangle.

    3. "Break From the Pack: How to Compete in a Copycat Economy" by Oren Harari is a 2007 book that hits many of the points touted on this blog (and in my upcoming book). Harari believes not only in the ambitious goal but the "higher cause" that aims to "change the world for the better."

  2. I never thought I'd see "ambitious mission", "orientation to action", and "Keith Richards" in the same piece. Guess I gotta read the book.

    Glad you mentioned the execution part. My local bar is full of guys who have "audacious goals", but not one of them has brought these intentions into reality.

  3. Happy to have you back, Dirk. Yeah, Keith was really the guy who made things happen in the early days of the Stones. He got sidelined in the 70s—due to some pharmaceutical distractions—but he's really been the engine of the band. I didn't realize until I read the book how much of the Stones' material he was primarily responsible for writing—and arranging.

    Yes, without the ability to execute or implement, an ambitious goal is just warm air. And of course you need a PLAN, but it needs to be flexible one, given the ever-changing marketplace.

  4. Interesting about Richards. He's become a punch-line for jokes in recent years. Hard to believe he's still standing.

  5. I've used Keith for a few cheap laughs myself: When I'm faced with a critical business decision, like most people I ask myself, "What would Keith Richards do?"

    Hey, there's something about the skag habit that seems to build resilience—at least in some cases. I've reconnected with a few former users whom I had assumed were long gone. They looked healthier than I. Whoda thunk?

  6. My late cousin Myles Henry, who transformed the deserted Maine Diner into an "audacious success", loved the Stones. He was a regular at their concerts, eventually gaining back stage access. Along with Maine Diner shirts he ordered for the gift shop, he made limited run Kieth Richards Athletic Club shirts to give to his friends and relatives. Myles understood how to dream big, work hard and inject solid rock and roll spirit in the mix. Miss ya cuz!

  7. Thanks, Bob. Yeah, The Maine Diner has lots of devotees throughout New England—and of course ANYONE who ever met Myles Henry, the co-founder, loved the guy. We'll always miss him.

    I knew he loved rock & roll but I didn't realize he was such a Stones fan. Maybe he too asked himself the question, "What would Keith do?"

  8. I had to give that spammer the hook, as much as I appreciated the lavish (and, I'm sure, totally sincere) praise he heaped on the blog. (Spammers say the nicest thing about this blog. I hate to throw out any commentator with such refined taste.)

    But it's interesting that he would use a thread filled with Keith Richards chatter to try to sell Bible studies—unless he concluded that this audience of readers consists mostly of scofflaws and reprobates, who would be in greatest need of his products.

  9. Richards and the Stones were full of contradictions. They posed as "street-fighting" men but they were the biggest capitalists rock 'n roll has ever seen, starting in the 60s. I read somewhere that they've made more bucks than any other band in the last 20 years. Maybe everyone in business should ask 'what would Keith do?' That's the title of a book, by the way.

    Peter

  10. Yes, Peter, the Stones have done pretty well for themselves over the years. Thanks for the reminder about the book: "What Would Keith Richards Do?: Daily Affirmations from a Rock and Roll Survivor" by Jessica West. Haven't read it tho.

  11. Who knew that Jagger and Lennon actually were conscious enough to have 'business ambition'

    They seem so embroiled in their music, and that's a place that I've always aspired to be.

    Makes sense that it takes concentration on more than one level to win in this world.

    Thanks for the insight, John!

  12. As mentioned in previous posts/comments, Jagger attended the London School of Economics for awhile while Richards attended Sidcup Art College. Jagger in particular had good business sense, though I wouldn't say their initial ambition was business-based. (They wanted to PLAY—and for Keith especially—to put blues-based rock & roll back on the map. And once they saw the teen hysteria at a Beatles concert they realized they could make a BIG splash playing R&R.) After they started to have hit records they realized that somebody was making a lot of dough from the band and it wasn't the 5 of them, so that's when Jagger put on his business hat. Four decades later they're a cash juggernaut.

  13. There's no arguing that Bono and U2 have cleaned up in the last 25 years. I think they've grossed more than any other current band except the Stones. But "best band in the world"? That would be a stretch, IMHO.

    Peter

  14. Peter, the great thing about aiming high is that even if you don't hit the goal you can accomplish a hell of a lot in pursuit of it.

    People can argue about who the "best band in the world" is, but with its 22 Grammy Awards and 34 nominations U2 deserves to be on a very short list of great bands. No other band has won that many Grammys.

  15. keith might have started running the band when they started to stink but while they were good it was brian's band.and to put the stones in a class with the beatles is just ridiculous .everything they used to do a crummy attempt at what the beatles did six months earlier....we love you....gimme a break

  16. Anon, I'm a Brian Jones fan and especially appreciated his many talents, but by the time Jagger-Richards were writing hit songs Brian had lost control of the band (tho his instrumental contributions were still significant). So by 1965 it was Jagger-Richards running things, with Richards taking the musical lead (songwriting, arranging, etc.). That persisted until he got strung out in the 70s. And the pre-1965 Stones were not noteworthy, so I'd argue that the era of Richards' leadership coincided with their most productive period.

    The Stones DID go through a period of Beatles' imitation (tho always with a harder and usually bluesier edge). But long before the Fabs broke up, the Stones were doing their own thing. Of course if there were no Beatles, there'd be no Stones (at least the way they sounded after 1963). But if there were no Chuck Berry or Elvis, there'd be no Beatles.

    I think any dispassionate rock music observer would agree that no other band can touch the Beatles' creativity—and complete mastery of the pop song. But many critics have labeled the Stones the best PURE ROCK & ROLL band in history. (But then there's the Who...)

    We don't give anyone any "breaks" at BLFR. :-) But please drop by again.

    1. The Stones always aspired to be the Beatles while the Beatles were together... and they never done it. Always one step behind. Also so many people don't know that one of the Stones first hits was a Lennon McCartney throw away. Lennon/McCartney showed Jagger/Richards that they could have a go at writing their own stuff. Thank God they did too , cos the Stones had some crackers after I Wanna Be Your Man. They were/are arguably The Greatest live Rock n Roll Band of all time ... The Beatles were/are the greatest Band of all time.. They paved the way & everyone else followed

  17. the rolling stones were predictable after 1965 and really lost the true blusey feel after brian jones was kicked out.there were always 2 or 3 songs that were the same on their albums...the beatles on the other hand never did the same thing once.keith by himself blows the stones away

  18. Well. I guess I am a very self-absorbed person! When I read this post, I did ponder the music issues - honest, I did. Rock IS the last word in the blog title, after all.

    Still, mostly I thought about my life. I thought about times when I dreamed big and found a way to make those dreams happen. It took hard work and some bold leaps to fulfill those dreams - no magic involved, just determination. Reading about how these icons of music put that into practice is fantastic, and inspiring.

    Have an outrageous dream. I LOVE that. Gosh, I am a lot like the great rockers - who knew? :)

    Really, John. Thank you. These posts have a lot layers.
    Or else -- it really IS all about me. Ummm.

  19. Anon: the Stones did mostly covers until 1965. Then they ran off a string of great singles, written by Jagger-Richards, including Last Time, Satisfaction, Get Off My Cloud, As Tears Go By, Paint It Black, Lady Jane, Ruby Tuesday, Jumpin' Jack Flash, and Honky Tonk Woman. Predictable? Only in the sense that most of those went to #1 on the charts. Most bands would kill for that kind of predictability.

    In July 1969 Jones was canned from the band. They had several more classic hits, like Brown Sugar, Street-Fighting Man, and Tumbling Dice before Richards' smack problems got in the way.

    Not sure how Keith (if that's whom you mean) could blow the rest of the band away when he rarely sang lead, while Jagger is considered by many to be the greatest lead singer in rock & roll history.

  20. Hey, Dorothy: no prob. Most of the remarks on the Comment thread are about the music (which is fine) but I'm also trying to make points about business, team-building, leadership, personal effectiveness, you name it. So why NOT have it be all about you?

    Anyway, to come full circle, if the best bands——like the Beatles, Stones, and U2 (who were "best" in very different ways)——started out with huge dreams despite humble beginnings (and minimal talent at the time) what might be possible for other kinds of teams and individuals?

  21. Ya know, the whole Big Hairy Audacious Goal thing has a hidden silver lining, led to a whole career for me. If you aim high and insane, but with conviction and passion, good unanticipated things will flow to you.
    ken

  22. mick jagger a the greatest rock singer?hahahahahahahahhahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahhahahahhahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhahahahaha.....ha

  23. Anon: though your logic is compelling in dismissing Mick, whom would you put at the top of your list?

    I might parse my language to suggest instead that many critics consider Jagger to be the greatest rock & roll VOCAL PERFORMER. (He was the first rock & roller to make singing a true performance art.) He'd certainly be on my short list. (BTW, I just did a quick perusal of online sites for greatest rock singer and greatest rock lead singer and Jagger places high on most lists.) Elvis would go high on my list too. (His performances were so disruptive in the beginning — by 1950s standards — that the TV cameras wouldn't show him from the waist down on one of his Ed Sullivan Show appearances, lest he precipitate a nationwide moral decline.)

  24. Dorothy, there are many who feel we DID suffer a moral decline in the 50s thanks to Elvis and the disease of rock & roll. (Of course Elvis turned out to be a boy scout.) Wonder what those same folks thought of Ozzie Osbourne or Johnny Rotten?

    But now you've got me wondering——did Elvis have a boldly ambitious dream when he was playing outdoor fairs for chump change?

  25. Hey John!!
    I like that quote of Bono's!!
    You've said it straight here.
    Would like to read Keith Richards' book eventually. For the present, the goals of Alia are the present aim, with lots of work for sure!!
    Have a good one!!
    :-)

  26. Whether or not you love Bono and U2—and judging by readers' polls, most folks love em—you have to admire their chutzpah. Before they could sing or play in tune they wanted to be the top dog. And before they even left Mount Temple School in Dublin they were focused on developing a unique attitude and point of view—a BRAND—without which their mega-success would have been unattainable.

  27. Still on the RnR theme of this Business blog (sorry John). There is no greatest singer of all time, just like their is no greatest guitarists drummers, violinist etc. 'One man's ceiling is another man's floor'- what many love many dislike or prefer something else .. Another old nugget 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'

    On the business side of this blog , I really admire those who have a dream & a willingness to risk all or nothing to make that dream a reality.
    I am realising at 60 that i never really took that risk and i regret it. I thought about it but never got out of second gear. There were genuine reasons & excuses but really it was sitting on that fence that prevented a lot of things. I am now in a place where the hourglass has more sand in the bottom than at the top and that is giving me a sense of urgency so who knows.
    As another GREAT RnR singer/songwriter sang:
    I 'm tired of waitin' for tomorrow to come
    Or that train to come roarin' 'round the bend
    I got a new suit of clothes a pretty red rose
    And a woman I can call my friend

    The inference is that you have to go out & get what you want with determination whether in life or business & not wait for it to land on your lap. The reality is if you just wait , the big chance is it will not happen.

    Bono .... grrr

    A guy died & went to heaven
    While he was waiting at the gates with saint Peter he saw a familiar face.
    He asked St Peter in astonishment - 'Is than Bono over there?
    St Peter replied - ' No that's God he just thinks he's Bono'

    Boom Boom

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