Can You Keep a Secret?

Posted By on November 4, 2009

As you have read in previous posts, RMITs are not believers in long-term planning. America’s big successes got where they are by incremental improvement and strong, careful execution, but they didn’t get there by deciding at the outset how they would hit a $2.5 million profit target or achieve a 72 percent market share. They followed their perfect pitch, always moving forward while remaining flexible enough to adapt to change and to take advantage of opportunities. As Dan Duncan, Houston’s RMIT, told me, “Daily incremental improvement is the surest path to great success and a great fortune.” As I found out as I was researching The Richest Man in Town, however, for all that they cautioned against too much goal-setting, many RMITs have a secret.

They may not have a ten-year plan, but RMITs often have a secret objective, a long-term goal that keeps them motivated even as the winds of change take them off the course they initially set. Dr. Thomas Frist, HCA Healthcare founder and Nashville’s RMIT, told me, “I believe everyone should have at least one silent goal. This is a goal that is known only by you. It’s a reach goal, one that is extremely hard to attain, but potentially life altering, even world changing. These kinds of world-changing goals are realized by only very few people. If you don’t reach them, you certainly won’t be judged by others—it’s your well-kept personal secret.” A silent goal—what Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, calls a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)—is your pole star, the guide to your final destination even as you adjust your course.

Life is in the journey, and strong execution is what keeps the ship moving forward, but every voyage has to have some ultimate destination, even if it’s known only to you. Amway (now Alticor) cofounder Richard DeVos told me that his silent goal was “to own the largest and the best privately-held consumer goods company in the world.” The secret of a secret goal is in combining big dreams—and no one dreams bigger than an RMIT—with the drive and the strong execution to make it happen. The secret is to set a goal that is so revolutionary, so forward in thought and deed that if you achieve it, you go down in history with the likes of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison—or Bill Gates. And even if you fail to meet your secret goal, you might hit that $2.5 million target and 72 percent share along the way. That’s the kind of failure you can live with (more on failure in my next post).

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About The Author

W. Randall Jones is the author of The Richest Man in Town. Visit the About W. Randall Jones and About The Richest Man in Town pages to learn more.