• Jonathan Goldhill

Hope is the Thing with Feathers



When I was a teenager growing up in New York, many famous comedians enamored me, but one of my favorites was Woody Allen, who in addition to movies and plays wrote a book called Without Feathers. It was a conglomeration of humorous tales and ruminations proving just how neurotic and funny he was. And its title, Without Feathers, is a sly comment on Emily Dickinson’s quote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” In my youth, I am not sure I really understood what either of them meant. Hope is the Thing with Feathers (written in in 1861) seemed to be a metaphor describing the characteristic of desire as being unbound, like a free-spirited bird—a self-reliant living creature. Conversely, Woody Allen’s was a self-deprecating play on life being hopeless.

I always believed both of them were right. Dickinson sheds hope on life if you fly. Allen employs humor to one’s entire existence. The fact, however, is that hope is NOT a strategy. I’ve met many successful business owners, some who are quite successful in spite of their lack of planning. Hope, while it springs eternal, especially in January after all those New Year’s resolutions are made … is a failed strategy at best.

Hope is not a strategy. It’s the absence of a plan.

What kind of a business leader, then, are you?

Do you have a hope that turns inspires your employees and managers with ideas and possibilities or are you the planning type who wants to prepare a strategy for taking your business to the next level?

It is my feeling that hope, like a bird, flies aimlessly here and there, optimistically singing nice songs and portending a feeling about the future. Is it true, though, that hope never fails us? That hope is always successful? Well, if you think like Woody Allen, then you might agree that life is without feathers. In other words, life doesn’t fly without feathers.

For more than 28 years, I’ve helped entrepreneurs build businesses. I haven’t found them to be built on hope. They are built upon visions and plans and the execution of them. If you are an entrepreneur who believes it is your responsibility to minimize risk and maximize reward, then planning is the only viable solution.

This is not to say that hope doesn’t have its place in all aspects of life—including business success. However, you cannot grow a business based on hope alone. Getting back to basics of strategy is essential. Getting back to basics means that you need to get back to envisioning, planning, implementing and gathering feedback to vision, plan and implement all over again.

Leading from the place of hope is about as effective as leading from a place of trust. Eventually, you need to put your ideas to paper, plan it out and then evaluate your results against your strategy.

John Lennon may have been correct when he said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” But, if we didn’t have those plans, how effortlessly would we have chosen the right path?

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