Hope is a Strategy

A few years ago I noticed a book ad in the O'Hare airport titled, "Hope is Not a Strategy." I loved the title. To me, it represented the pain and frustration I felt in companies I had worked for, namely if we did enough "stuff" and hoped it would work, it would. The equation of stuff + hope = results never worked, and so I loved and quoted the title.

But I've changed my mind.

Hope is a strategy, but not the only one. While exhaustive homework, imagination and intensity make a difference, for anything worthwhile there will come a time when hope is the only thing to hold onto.

In the Heath Brothers latest book Switch (which ironically I was reading by lantern last night in a midnight power outage, hoping for light and heat to come back), IDEO CEO Tim Brown describes the need for hope for a singular reason: "Foggy periods." Here's how he explains it.

An IDEO designer created a "project mood chart" that's shaped like a U. The beginning of any project is represented by the upper-left of the U, where people feel enthusiasm. At the upper-right of the U, when the project is over, there is confidence (assuming they nailed it). Between the two peaks, at the valley of the U, is what they label "insight," where the real struggle happens because you're caught in the middle of data, countless ideas, and what to do with it all. That's also where you watch many ideas fail. Tim is quoted as saying that design is "rarely a graceful leap from height to height." At the bottom of the U, it's easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed.

That's where hope is a strategy. Without hope, discouragement and fatigue overpower enthusiasm and confidence, and the insight never comes.

For any company or project, it's just not possible to perfectly see the end from the beginning, despite how popular that message is to preach. Bookstore shelves are stocked with messages on "vision" and "mission." I'm not aware of one story, vision or mission that didn't require hope in perplexing and fatiguing moments. I hesitate to say the word "moments" because the very word suggests the bottom of the U lasts minutes or days, not weeks, months or years. And we often don't know for how long the bottom of the U will stretch.

Hope is as important to accomplishing great work as IQ, money and a driving purpose. In the darkest moments, hope may be the only thing you have to hold onto.

Don't let anyone, including the over-analytics or those who imagine they've had it easy (or that it usually is), tell you otherwise. Too many success stories about leaders, organizations and movements are sanitized of the dark moments where hope was all they had, or condensed so that it appears the tough moments are very temporary. It's not true. Don't believe it.

Hope is a strategy, and at the bottom of the U, it may be the most important one.

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