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Why hope is not a business plan

Optimism creates possibilities, but it's not a recipe for success


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Years ago, I worked for a CEO who was known to remind his teams that “hope is not a business plan.” He was emphatic that business planning in the company be based in the expectation for positive results, but built out with an understanding of the commitments and resources needed to create those upside outcomes. It was not acceptable for teams to present hopeful representations of what they want to deliver.

This comes back up for me whenever I talk with someone who has aspirations for greater success and fulfillment. When I hear their hopeful talk, the expectations they have for their work and what their lives will be like when it happens, I get curious. I always want to know what their plan is to make those aspirations reality. I always ask what they’re doing to make them reality. That's when the conversation stops.

For a few prickly moments we abide in silence. There may be some uncomfortable sighs, some shoulder shrugging, some fidgeting.  And then they lay it on me. “I guess I just hope it works out.”

Hope it works out? Is that any way to approach something that is so important as your very success and happiness at having achieved what you set out to?

It is time to face the fact that hope is NOT a success plan.

Far too many of us, for way too long, have settled in to just hoping for the success we want. We submit to taking a back seat on our own bus to success. We assume that working hard and being a good person will get us there....or so we hope.

We hope for a break in the mayhem of the everyday grind thinking that’s when we’ll do something. We hope for the big projects that will challenge us to work to our potential. We hope to be tapped for opportunities to lead plum initiatives. We hope that in the process we don’t get laid off (because then we’ll be really stuck).

Yes, hope is important for the openness, expectation, ambition and positivity it brings. But hope alone does not create success.

Yes, hope creates the possibility of achievement and represents the potential for growth. But there is no direct output from hope. It is a state of forward anticipation that on its own goes nowhere. There’s no inherent action in hope. Yet we so readily give over our future to it.

Before I get accused of being a “negative Nancy” or a “dream crusher”, let me be crystal clear. This is not about abandoning hope. This is about waking up to the fact that we must do more than hope!

Consider this in the context of an actual business plan. We all understand that a business plan would be incomplete if it only showed our desired outcomes. We know it must also represent things like the resources you’ll commit, the cost of the product you’ll develop and what it will take to sell it, among other things.

A success plan is no different. If it consists of just desires and aspirations it is nothing more than hope. Those desired outcomes have to be tied with tactical details around what you will do, when, and with what resources to drive toward your target. Having a robust plan also allows you to assess your progress, make course corrections along the way, and thereby exert some control as you deliberately create your success.

So keep the hope. Just remember that a solid plan and attentive management of it is what will turn hope into reality.

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Liv Syptak

Liv Syptak specializes in blasting though the BS we buy into about success. She works with butt-kicking high achievers who have had it with merely surviving the work week. Liv leads people to reconnect with why they work, reclaim control of their success and even reinvent completely. She inspires through her writing and speaking and motivates real change for small group and private clients.

Reach her at liv@livsyptak.com or 303.912.5726.

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