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Jack Dunigan

Quality Insider

Five Reasons Why Hope Isn’t a Valid Strategy

Strategic thinking is creative thinking at its most useful

Published: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 15:37

I  have always loved working with military people. Their training firmly builds within them a “can do” mentality and a fixation on mission objectives.

One of the best employee associates I ever had was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. He could always be depended on to get jobs out the door and focus on billable hours. When discussing business he often said that “Hope is not a valid strategy.”

Hope, when used as a strategy, dooms us to failure because it is so fuzzy. Fuzzy thinking has a place in formulating vision, but it has no place in strategic planning. That facet of leadership demands clearheadedness and cold acceptance of reality.

But that realistic outlook can incline us toward pessimism. I mean, simply looking at the size of a task, the complexity of the issue, or the ingrained habits of a group can overwhelm us. Watching the news does the same thing.

Here are five reasons why hope can’t be a strategy.

1. It encourages sloppy thinking. Hope as a strategy rounds off the corners of life’s sharp edges. It edits the images we see so that only those “proofs” that prove our preconceived notions are seen and accepted. Look at the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin minted by the U.S. Treasury Department. Every focus group, every study, every analysis showed the coin to be too near the size of a quarter and therefore confusing to the public. But those who wanted the coin ignored the evidence and went ahead with a disastrous launch of a coin that never found acceptance by the public.

2. It tends to ignore the past or at least minimize its lessons. This is just plain stupid. I once attended a pastor’s conference where the invocation prayer proved to be one of the best presentations of the entire event. The pastor opening the event prayed, “God, let us make new mistakes. We are tired of making the same mistakes over and over and over again.”

3. It tends to promote delusional thinking. On a small scale, but one that demonstrates this, there is an author in my community who has written a book of her life’s story, focusing on its hardships and how she overcame them. Well, somewhat. I’ve read the book, and it is badly written, sketchy at best, and desperate for the skilled eyes of an editor. The author hired one of the many “publishing” companies that has sprung up recently to publish and distribute her book—to which she paid a princely sum. I saw her just a few days ago and asked her how it was going. She had no idea, but she “hoped” it would do well. She told me she intended to make enough from the sales of her book to live in ease and comfort.

As one who’s been in the writing and publishing business for decades, I can assure you she will be lucky to recover even a portion of what she paid the company to publish her book. Had she examined the market, studied what makes a successful book, learned how books are marketed these days, accepted the realities of independent publishing, and examined what the profit realities are for 99 percent of authors (almost none, which is why most have day jobs, too), her chances would be better. Not great, but better. But, delusion is a powerful force, one that has charmed her into a level of fantasy that will be either disappointing or worse. That brings me to point No. 4.

4. When used as a strategy, hope rejects facts, glosses over evidence, and wants to believe—so therefore it must be true. This is where we begin to distinguish between hope as an attitude and hope as a strategy. I do indeed consider hope to be a vital component in the tool chest of an effective leader. But positive thinking in and of itself can be incredibly damaging. I’ve written about this on my other blog here and here, so I won’t repeat it. Hope, when used as a replacement for sound judgment, is deadly.

5. Hope inflates the positives, deflates the negatives, and therefore clouds the faculty to make intelligent decisions and take intelligent action. The result is most often discouraging, defeating, or even disastrous. We must have sound judgment supported by honest motives and our willing acceptance of the facts as they are. Strategic thinking is creative thinking at its most useful level.

Creative thinking has three components, particularly when it comes to our need to make strategic plans to propel our department, team, company, or organization toward its vision.
Component No. 1: A must equal A. A cannot equal be and must not equal whatever you want it to be. Creative thinkers discover reality and accept it as the place to begin. Those who substitute hope do not. They ignore the facts, minimize their importance, or rationalize away their validity. Rationalizing means telling yourself rational-sounding lies and believing them regardless of the facts.
Component No. 2: The law of cause and effect. The decisions we make and the actions we take cause things to happen, not happen, or fall apart. The effects of those decisions are caused by something. Hope as a strategy ignores this reality, clouds over the causes, and explains away their effects.
Component No. 3: The principle of influence. You are a powerful figure in your setting. You may not know this. You may not understand this. You may even be baffled by it. But when you talk or make decisions, others listen. You have influence. That is the essence of leadership—the capacity to affect what others think and do. Hope as a strategy tends to “numbify” others, to coin a term. Because your circle of concern is always greater than your circle of ability, and because you must have the active and intelligent cooperation of others to reach the noble and grand objectives now incarnated as vision, you must capitalize on your influence. Hope, when used strategically, tends to dull the senses and relax the sharp attention of others. You want to be carefully tuned to your circumstances, and you need others to be so as well.

First published May 8, 2014, on The Practical Leader.

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About The Author

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Jack Dunigan

For more than four decades, Jack Dunigan has been leading, consulting, training, and writing. His experience is varied and comprehensive. His training and consulting clients are as varied as the Chief Justice of the Navajo Supreme Court to a top-rated campsite management company. But his advice is not merely academic. His blog, www.ThePracticalLeader.com, is focused on practical advice for leaders and managers of businesses, corporations, nonprofit agencies, families, organizations, departments, anywhere and anytime a person leads others. His latest book is Three Absolutely Necessary, Always Present Skills of an Effective, Successful Leader (CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2012).