Hope is not strategic, but it can keep your plan alive.
This post was inspired by two events.
The first was years ago when a good friend made the comment “Hope is not strategic” when we were pre-gaming a project that was set up to fail from the beginning with a shared client. We were called in to help save the project after we both actually pitched to be part of the project originally. The project managers never had a real plan and were heard saying “they hoped it was going to work” when asked what they were thinking or expecting when they started on their path. The line “hope is not strategic” is now commonly used in the beginning of my executive meetings and one of the fan favorites in “The Great Book of “Peterisms” found here.
The second was a result of reading through various prepper blogs when we started experiencing supply chain issues, seeing signs going up in the stores about purchase limits, and having some of the weekly staples we purchase either not being available or the prices rise at a historical pace. And most recently, the crazy fires that swept through Boulder CO, the winter storm that stranded drivers on I95 in Virginia, and the reports out of China from their most recent lockdowns where an entire city ran out of food.
In one of the prepper blog readings, the author states what many survivalists preach; that a person can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 hours in extreme weather, and 3 minutes without air. The author also stated that you can lose hope in less than 3 seconds. It was this last figure that got me thinking about why would you lose hope and how do you maintain it when you are staring at or finding yourself in a hopeless situation?
Hope is defined in Websters as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen and that you believe it is possible to achieve it.
Losing hope means you stop believing that something you want to happen could happen and that it might not be possible at all. Something makes you quit believing that you can succeed or even proceed further and that can happen very quickly.
When the characters Cassian Andor and later Jyn Erso say “Rebellions are built on hope” in Rogue One, it sets the stage for all of the next chapters in Star Wars where we know how the story mostly ends. There were sure a lot of strategies throughout the various movies, some only temporarily successful. They seem to have ended in the positive for the rebellion, but how did hope play a role and how did they not lose it?
Think about all the other movies that have a similar story line of certain doom and defeat but the good guys end up winning. In all of them, hope seemed to be fading but it was never completely lost. The end of Saving Private Ryan where Tom Hanks’ character is shooting his .45 1911 Colt at a German tank as a P-51 saves the day is another great example and how about the final battle in Infinity Wars when the rest of the help shows up? Same with the final Star Wars movie The Rise of Skywalker when the entire rebellion shows up as Poe is admitting defeat. Epic shit!
Believe it or not, there is not much on the inter-web about losing hope, not much money is selling hopelessness, but I found a few ways how one may lose hope on a PsychCentral’s website post:
- You may never have had hope from the beginning. You may not have even developed the level of thinking or built the resilience to navigate simple struggles when things prevent you from achieving something.
- You may have lost the connections you had to hope. Going into 2020 and then into 2021, there was a lot of uncertainty and changes that left a lot of people transitioned into a dark place. Being called unessential by the government, having the values that you identify with attempting to be cancelled, having loved ones not get the help they need medically, and not being able to navigate the “new normal” in working from home took a toll on lots of people.
- You may have been a victim of actions that you cannot control. The Waukesha Christmas Parade is a perfect example. How are you supposed to prepare for anything that evil. A failed judicial system, and political atmosphere that favors criminal behavior over the rights and well being of honest and productive citizens, other peoples agendas and beliefs being pushed by media, even unnecessary policies and mandates can all make you feel like you have no control over what happens to you.
- You may just be burned out. At the end of the day, leading is not as easy as best selling books make it look and if you don’t take care of yourself, you can get exhausted and overwhelmed to a point where life seems to just want to run over you. You no longer feel able to manage your responsibilities and you develop a negative and cynical view of the world and others. You just feel defeated no matter what you do.
I’ll tell you that mid way through 2021, we were all losing some hope at the shop based on market conditions, failed economic and health policies based on politics and not objective practicality, a media system focused on raising blood pressures and not truth, and misplaced energy on causes that derail the values and traditions that got us where we were. At the end of the day, I did not see anyone looting work clothes and work boots during what were declared to be “peaceful” riots. You had a Governor that sided with criminals and not law enforcement or law abiding citizens on social media, and we were told to feel guilty for being who we are because we used pronouns that are appropriate. Not to mention the double standards that existed for both elected and appointed officials that were telling us to do the opposite of what they practiced: Gun control nuts that surrounded themselves with armed guards, one percenters telling us to save energy while they fly private jets to climate summits, leaders that get their hair done at days spas when they demanded non-essential businesses and workers be put on the sideline, riots that caused more damage than anytime in history being called peaceful by media, even the neighbor that flies the BLM flag but yet lives in the least integrated part of the state, sends their kids to the least integrated schools and is the first to call the sheriff when a “suspicious” car drives through. Classics.
At the shop, the uncertainty felt and hypocrisy observed in the world led to fear, mistrust, doubt, and caused numerous distracting conversations which took our eyes off the prize of on time with the highest quality. The fact that I had family and employees looking at me for hope kept me going. I did not see it as a choice. It really did not matter the day I had. I found people looking at me with even more concern, uncertainty, and more doubt than I was feeling and I felt a sense of duty to keep going by telling myself it couldn’t get worse and focused on the next right actions even though I felt like I was the captain of a refugee raft being being blown in the wrong direction.
I have have been blessed with great mentors that have been sounding boards for growth and inspired me to not quit. I still talk to some of them often. I have unfortunately also had some great people that I considered pillars of strength melt down and shut down in the past two years. Just look at the great resignation. It is not all bell ringers and crossing guards retiring like 46 thinks.
Through many conversations, I found that I was not alone in this hopeless feeling that I felt and there were solutions to these new problems by repurposing success found in the past, just from different aspects. I have always believed in surrounding myself with older and smarter people that have navigated the same issues before I had but here we are in the same boat building the play book while a game that nobody has played before is being played.
So how did and do I maintain and find hope when hope seems to leave the planet? How do you keep hope alive when everything you believe in is being attacked and you feel like things are out of your control? I started looking at what we have accomplished and gained on from where we were pre-pandemic. I started looking at what we had working for us and not against us and I discovered that we had actually accomplished things that we did not think we could actually accomplish when we set the goals.
Experts with more psychological understanding than myself state that setting and achieving goals, even simple ones, contributes to hope. When you are able to reach your goals, there is a sense of achievement and validation that instills more hope and gives you the confidence and motivation to set and achieve more goals. Nothing is more satisfying than to check a box on the getter done list and in this sense, empowering yourself by setting and achieving goals was the key. Of course these goals should follow the specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timebound format. If you are not familiar with the acronym “SMART” for goal setting, there are plenty of blogs our there so I won’t expand on it here. I actually like the newer spin on SMART setting SMARTER goals from Michael Hyatt in his book “Your Best Year Ever”. You can read more about it here.
You can start with a big goal or or small one but get started and don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis thinking you need 100% of the information in place before you do. George Patton stated that “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week“. You can build Rome or you can lose five pounds. You can double the size of your company or you can just reorganize one process for efficiencies. Of all the things you could work on to improve in your life, in the life of those around you, in your business, and even the world, you should write them down, and then spend some time prioritizing them and even involving others for input and ideas on achievement. Be SMART about it and make sure you do not have too many. Boiling the ocean is not possible and neither is gaining my college body back.
I will tell you that the best business goal set and business move we made in the past 18 months was NOT my idea and I give full credit to the others. Also, the best goal I have personally right now came from a realization during conversation on a dinner date with my wife and although I am moving the chains on it, it has required some adaptation in strategies and attacking some beliefs that have held me back.
Once your goals are organized and prioritized, you should make the goals that are agreed to be possible known and visible to appropriate stakeholders that can help you stay on track.
I happened across a nifty graphic one day while looking for a new format to keep our vision, our strategies, and all of our business driving goals and metrics visible and accountable for progress. It’s truly the only accountability tool I have seen work and we update it weekly for our meetings to use it as a living dashboard. We check on progress weekly and I like the idea of measuring the gains on the goals and not the gap as told by Omar Itani here.
Our business drivers include structure, sales, quoting, operations, finance, and culture and each bucket has it’s own goals based on our vision with three key leading indicators each that define and show progress on achievement. Structurally, we want to have the proper alignment, balance, and accountability. For sales, we have activity, volume, and profitability goals and metrics. For quoting, we measure the time to respond, meeting of our proforma standards, and project qualification minimums for our capabilities. For operations, we have labor efficiency, machine scheduling, and on-time delivery metrics. For finance, we have timely reporting, certain income statement ratios, and process controls in the ERP for proper reporting. And finally for culture, we have adopted the tactics from the book “FISH” and challenge each other for adoption, we recruit those that can help and force us to grow, and make sure we are adding value to ourselves and the community around us by giving back and having fun.
If that is not enough, I also have a secondary tool I developed for myself to keep my next best steps as a leader organized by the relative buckets of value they fall into for the organization and make them time-bound. This was outlined in the post about our “Quattro V” formula found here.
The achievement of our goals was not as easy as just writing them down and not everyone is going to have your sense of urgency to achieve them. This is where leadership is needed and stewardship needs to be escorted out.
Let’s revisit how you lose hope again. When working toward any goal, there’s likely to be some unexpected situations that occur and you need to be ready to deal with obstacles and setbacks as they arise. You can try to identify what barriers you could run into and how to be prepared to manage these, but there will be others you did not expect. Remember, what can blow up will. When it does, 95% of the solution will be how you deal with it and you need to be ready to adapt the plan and tactics and do not under any circumstance use these hurdles as an excuse to give up.
There is also a natural pace of others and activities that you may have to accept, but if there is progress or gains, then do as much as you can to keep right activities going and accelerate it. Additionally, if there is something that is not working towards the achievement of your goal or goals, change tactics, find different resources, and delegate to different people. Each room in my company has a sign with a big red target printed on it and the words “bang head here” across it to remind us about the definition of insanity and to remind us to look at different options when we are running into diminishing returns on activities.
The title of this post changed seven times while I was writing and editing it and I go back to my friends comment about hope not being strategic. This is the same friend that invented the word “strategery”. I am a pragmatic objective individual that tries to stick to logic most of the time but hope has helped in the past two years.
Love you, Pete!
President, Murphy Associates
Partner, Oak Hill Business Partners
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“Judi’s business acumen is second to none. She is a skilled leader, and I feel privileged she mentored me both in business and life.” Brian Curry, PhD, MBA Program Director, US & International, Concordia University