Big hairy audacious goals are long-term business aspirations designed to effect major changes over time. A goal is not a big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG, unless it is radical, forward-thinking, and extremely ambitious. Companies often set big hairy audacious goals as a way of propelling themselves forward in a defined direction and strategizing into the distant future.
Stanford University business professors James Collins and Jerry Porras used the phrase “big hairy audacious goals” in a 1996 article called “Building Your Company’s Vision.” In that article, the authors challenged entrepreneurs and established CEOs alike to set out radical, wide-reaching goals for corporate achievement. Big vision, they argued, is one of the best ways to motivate employees, be successful, and over the long term, truly change a corporate ethos for the better.
Collins and Porras encouraged readers to think of the hardest, scariest, most revolutionary changes they would like to see in their companies over the next several decades. They called these changes “big hairy audacious goals” as a way of conceptualizing their magnitude and breadth. Big hairy audacious goals, as described in the professors’ article, should be goals that can be completed in anywhere from 10 to 30 years, with smaller milestone goals set at intervals along the way.
One of the benefits of adopting a BHAG is to effect radical-sounding corporate changes. In nearly all cases, big hairy audacious goals challenge companies to work outside of their comfort zones and to strive for things that may not seem likely or even possible. With a minimum 10-year time frame, however, almost anything can be accomplished if properly planned and executed.
Not all big hairy audacious goals relate to business goals. Though the term originated in a business context, it can be applied to nearly any aspect of life. Individuals often set BHAGs for themselves, usually for personal development or enrichment. Ambitions like learning a foreign language, earning a graduate degree, or embarking on unusual, challenging travels are common personal big hairy audacious goals.
The concept is also frequently used in education. Teachers will challenge students to set BHAGs for themselves by visualizing where they want to be in high school, in college, or as adults. Encouraging children to set out solid life goals at an early age can be a good way of channeling energy and encouraging a focus on continuing personal development.