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."