BHAG Anyone?

July 22nd, 2019

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On this day 50 years ago, Apollo 11 was returning to the Earth. Jim Collins called it a BHAG. What’s a BHAG? And who cares?

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a historic speech before a joint session of Congress. He proposed an audacious goal. Before the decade of the 60s was out, the US would land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth.

NASA gulped. The space agency was tasked to do what was beyond its present capabilities. Nor could it hide behind generalities. The goal was specific, measureable. Land a man on the moon. Return him safely to Earth. Do it before December 31, 1969.

Jim Collins calls NASA’s project a BHAG, a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. The term was coined by Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. It’s a goal that visionary. Stirring. Inspirational. But it’s more than that.

A BHAG aligns with your company’s purpose and strategy. But it’s well beyond your company’s present capabilities. And it’s long-term (a 10 to 25-year goal). It’s audacious.

I don’t hear many BHAGs these days. In the church, we seek to build community, serve the poor. Good things. But not quite a BHAG.

Long ago I was stirred by Bill Bright’s BHAG: Reach the entire world by 1980. You can question his BHAG, but where do you see today’s faith community having such audacious aims? We seem to have lowered our sights. Not sure that’s good.

We do hear a few BHAGs these days. They’re mostly in tech. Google: “Organize the world’s information.” Facebook: “Connect the world.” Evernote: “Remember everything.”

I don’t find these inspiring. Organize the world’s information? Apparently Google has never read T. S. Eliot. “Where is the wisdom we have lost in the information?” That’s a question only a handful of tech leaders like Tristan Harris are wrestling with.

Connect the world? Samuel Morse aimed to do that (Morse Code). But Coleridge wondered whether it was helpful for Texas to know what Maine was doing. Of course, most folks in tech don’t read history. They don’t read poets like Coleridge.

Remember everything? Folks at Evernote apparently don’t read scripture. God warns us to not remember everything. It’s not healthy. Best to forget some things.

I recognize there are Christians in tech who read scripture. If you look at the significant sectors shaping American society—business, media, arts and entertainment, educators, the military, athletes, politics, journalism, the legal system—the military, athletes, and tech people are the most religious. But does their reading of scripture yield wisdom?

Rarely. That’s according to Brandon Vaidyanathan, an Associate Professor of Sociology at The Catholic University of America. Brandon was born and raised in the Arabian Gulf. He holds a master’s degree in Management from HEC Montreal and a doctorate in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. I spoke with Brandon recently about his new book, Mercenaries and Missionaries: Global Capitalism and Global Christianity in Emerging Economies (Cornell University Press, 2019). His research was done mainly in Dubai and Bangalore, two leading tech cities. In a nutshell, Brandon says most Christians in tech are mercenaries or missionaries.

A mercenary is a soldier of fortune. A mercenary Christian is financially successful. He or she creates platforms. But they don’t ask if the platforms promote human flourishing.

A missionary Christian sees his or her work merely as a platform for sharing their faith. They have a utilitarian view of work. Be profitable, provide jobs, share your faith.

Vaidyanathan says mercenary or missionary is a global problem mostly because tech drives globalization. It’s Catholic and Protestant. Developing world and developed world.

It’s a global problem calling for a global solution. The problem is the tech industry is good at monetizing the Internet and leveraging markets. It has a tin ear regarding the morality of all this. The BHAG is getting the tech industry to connect markets and morality.

Roger McNamee is trying to do this. In his new book, Zucked, Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, McNamee says platforms like Facebook and Google manipulate user attention and create addiction. McNamee was an early investor in Facebook. He mentored Mark Zuckerberg and recommended Sheryl Sandberg to the platform.

McNamee joins a growing crowd of critics (like Brian Acton) who made billions by creating some of Facebook’s top products. They were mercenaries. Now they’re wondering where is the wisdom in all this information? Must be reading T. S. Eliot.

It’d be great if more Christians in tech joined this movement. Every Christian has a BHAG. Love your neighbor. It requires making flourishing cultures. That includes asking whether our social technologies promote human flourishing. If NASA could achieve its BHAG in a decade, could the church achieve a tech BHAG in roughly the same time?

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6 Responses to “BHAG Anyone?”

  1. Ron Worman says:

    You use the term mercenary to describe the architects of the platform who don’t connect it to their faith and the missionary to describe how we can treat work as a platform for sharing your faith. What term would you use to describe the “third way”

  2. Greg says:

    Thank you, Mike. I ache for more conversations with people who are willing to make BHAGs in my city. It’s rare. At least it’s rare that I hear BHAGs that inspire me. I’ll keep my ears more open. Maybe I’m not listening closely enough.

  3. Dave Hynek says:

    Mike,

    It was Apollo 11, not Apollo 8. Apollo 8 was the first lunar orbit in December 1968 with Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders. Apollo 11 was the lunar landing you reference. Who can forget the reading of Genesis from space on Christmas Eve?

    What’s next for NASA and the moon? It is the Artemis Program to land a man an a woman on the moon by 2024. It makes sense. There are good reasons for making the moon a base to explore and settle the rest of the solar system. With water discovered on the poles of the moon, that can be used to make O2 and Hydrogen fuel. It’s going to be an exciting decade.

  4. Mike Metzger says:

    Ron: Discerning. Or tech-wise.

    I recommend Andy Crouch’s “The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.”

  5. Lauris says:

    Every Home For Christ has launched a BHAG called the Oikos Initiative of putting the gospel message in every home on earth by 2030.

  6. Mike Metzger says:

    btw, here’s an example of an audacious goal

    https://religiousfreedomandbusiness.org/ingrid-vanderveldt/

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