“Hope is not a strategy”

This phrase has quickly become cliche’.  But have you ever really thought about, what it is saying?  First let’s look at the entire quote:  “Because ‘change’ is not a destination, just as ‘hope’ is not a strategy.”  This quote was made in a speech by Mayor R. Giuliani in 2008.  Of course it was political in nature, but it has been picked up in the day-to-day business lexicon and is now used at those annual “pick-me up” meetings, stockholder addresses, and in those routine development meetings.  So, let’s use this bit of political sarcasm as a bit of leadership acumen and reflect on exactly what and how we can use it to our personal advantage.

As with most profound statements there is reality, truth and depth.  This is the case here as well.  Let’s take the two parts of the quote – “change is not a destination” and “hope is not a strategy” and examine them.  Both are essentially factual statements.  If you look for Change, USA in Google Maps – you find there is no such location (there is a Change’, France – but I am sure it is not pronounced the same way.)  And, certainly it is clearly understood that the Mayor was not referring to a physical place.  Those of us in the business world know that change is difficult and requires a great deal of planning and work.  So, change for change sake is not worth the resources required nor will it work without a clear vision and destination in mind.  Change is a process, it is used to achieve a goal.  But the goal must be clear, and the benefits must be understood by all if it is to be successful.  People by their vary nature are resistant to change.  “Who moved my Cheese” is an excellent book (and a quick read) if you want to explore the philosophy behind change and how people react to it.

How about the second part of the quote – the one that is getting frequent use?  “Hope is not a strategy.”  A strategy is defined as the science or art of employing/implementing plans or methods to obtain a specific goal or outcome.  For most of us, a strategy has become more of a process by which various action items are framed to achieve a specific goal.  For example:  if the company or organization wants to be the “premiere provider of great stuff”, the strategy is the specific action steps outlined by the organization’s planning group or development team that have been decided based on the available resources (or missing resources) that need to be achieved in order to get to that state (as it was defined by the organization).  Thus, the strategy becomes the guide book for a period of time used to achieve a goal.

So, clearly “hope” is not a strategy as it lacks substance.  It lacks framework.  It does not have actionable parts.  There is nothing to build upon.  It is ephemeral.

Think about all that motivational training you have had over the years.  Those goal setting instructions.  The feel good speeches.  All of them have something in common – they tell you that you can’t achieve your goal without having some sort of plan.  But, what they don’t tell you is “how to define your goal”.   Sure, they say – think about where you want to be in five or  ten years. However, if you are like most people there are two problems with this: 1) you don’t have a clue what the options are and 2) you haven’t even figured out what you want to be when you grow up.

Here is where the word “hope” helps.  If you recall from your Greek mythology, when Pandora opened the box, she let out all kinds of evils, dreads, and despair.  Yet, there was one thing in the box that could counteract these things – hope.  Have you ever looked at the definition of hope?  It is not very concise nor does it truly convey its meaning.  Hope is defined as a feeling that what is wanted can be had.  Not very helpful, yet we all know what hope is.

So, how does hope help?  Think about your hopes.  You may hope that you are going to find a cure for cancer, or hope that you will live comfortably until you are 110 years old, or hope to climb Mt. Everest.  These “hopes” define your aspirations.  They let you dream for the stars.  They are not grounded in the framework of your current situation.  They change your thinking and allow you to define the future.

Hope allows us to see possibilities.  Hope allows us to visualize. Paints the picture – you have to do the rest, set the goals, and develop the plans to get you there. No, “hope is not a strategy” but it helps define the destination.

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