Ok, I can hear you groaning. We’ve all heard the phrase “Hope is not a strategy” — and it isn’t, especially when based on illusion, delusion, fiction or false assumptions.
But hope is a critical part of achieving a strategy when based on what is possible; perhaps not highly probable, but possible. Hope is the belief that something is possible and probable, and the recognition that the degree of each is not necessarily equal.
When hope is based on real-world experience, knowledge and tangible and intangible data, it results in trust, which is necessary to implementing any strategy. Without faith in the people, processes and technologies involved, how can we achieve anything? Hope recognizes the reality that failure happens, success is not assured, the laws of physics don’t change and prudence is needed to discern when to persevere — and when to pivot. Hope doesn’t demarcate a linear path, but it does guide us through twists and turns. Hope views the glass as half full, not half empty. Hope supports realistic optimism, a necessary component of success.
Optimists are powerful for solving wicked problems, the ones pessimists say can’t be solved. I’m a passionate attendee of the Business Innovation Factory‘s annual conferences. Two years ago, at BIF-6, my friend Carmen Medina‘s phrase, “Optimism is the greatest act of rebellion” became the mantra. Last year at BIF-7, Angela Blanchard‘s phrase, “You can’t build on broken” became our rallying cry. If you’ve read Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, you are familiar with the term Bright Spots. Bright Spots are places where things are working, where they aren’t broken. People who use hope as a strategy look at what’s worked, why, and the lessons that can be applied to other areas.
As I’ve worked with companies of all sizes and industries, from multi-billion dollar corporations to tiny startups, I see hope as one common denominator of success, when hope is directly tied to faith and trust in what has worked — and what can work again. Two companies come to mind, at each end of the size spectrum:
A 163-year old family-held manufacturing company, Menasha Packaging Corp, whose management bet their careers to radically reinvent the business model, the product mix and selling process. They succeeded. They had hope that their people would understand, embrace and achieve the new direction. Why? Because their people were dedicated, creative, loyal and tight knit; they were treated as a part of the family; and because management had enough “evidence” to hope that they could pull this off if they all pulled the same direction.
A 3-year old beverage company, Runa, started by a bunch of kids out of college determined to become the next big thing in naturally focused energy tea-based beverages while lifting Ecuadorian farmers out of poverty — while educating their children and preserving the rain forest. They hoped their passion for the farmers and tea, along with their advisors’ wisdom and the problem-solving learned through their education, would lead to success. Three years later, they are expanding, increasingly doing well and significantly changing lives. While their initial hopes were based much more on the possible versus the probable, the equation is starting to even out.
I can tell you so many powerful stories of how hope has been a key to strategic success; how hope had an impact on lives far beyond what most people thought was possible; how giving employees and teams a clear message of hope realized resulted in both profit and purpose.
This sounds so trite and mundane. Hope is a strategy. Yeah, right. But it is. After a few decades of helping organizations create highly actionable, measurable, living strategic plans that adapt to the changing world instead of leaving our companies stuck in concrete, I’ve seen hope achieve marvelous success for customers, employees, communities, stakeholders and shareholders.
So, what would happen if you tried to make hope part of your strategy? Remember: 1) base it in fact, not fiction; 2) learn and apply from failures along the way, 3) focus on what’s working instead of what’s broken, and 4) use optimism as your greatest act of rebellion against the naysayers and status quo. Hope really can be a strategy.
Find the Harvard Business Review article here
Deb Mills-Scofield is a strategy and innovation consultant to mid/large corporations and partner in Glengary LLC, an early-stage venture capital firm. She’s also a Visiting Scholar at Brown University and teaches at Oberlin College. Her patent from AT&T Bell Labs was one of the highest revenue-generating patents for AT&T and Lucent. Twitter: @dscofield.