Moving 1 Percent of the World to Become Persons of Impact

We live in a remarkable time in human history.

The advancement of science to solve problems on a global scale is unprecedented. Yet, in one very important area, this methodology has not been tried to the extent that it has changed one of the most important perceptions of the world.

I have never found anyone who can demonstrate to me the true potential of an individual. 

Economists can predict bear and bull economic cycles. Physicians can show how to extend life through advanced healthcare. Even sports bookies in Las Vegas can predict who will win the Super Bowl.

But no one that I know has developed a methodology to predict the full potential of an individual life. I want you to think about why this matters.

Last year I had the privilege of speaking to students at a business high school in Vienna, Austria. I tell this story in my book Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative to Ignite Change*. In preparing my remarks the day before I went to the school. I thought about what they needed to hear from me. If I have only one chance, just one opportunity to influence their lives and impact the whole of their life, what should I say?

I’d wonder the same question if we were sitting next to each other on a plane flying across the country together, and we talked about our lives. If you were sitting in your favorite chair at home, that place where you contemplate your life and work, what should you be thinking about if you were at a transition point in your life, and need to make some kind of change?

Whether you are a high school student, a weary traveler of the skies, or sitting in the quiet of your own home, I’d want you to think about your potential for making a difference that matters. Not just once or twice, but as the focus of your life.

I want you to rid yourself of the thoughts of all the obstacles and problems that stand in your way. I only want you to think about what your potential might be. But your potential doesn’t mean much if there is no purpose or goal to fill it with a reason to give yourself to its fulfillment.

At a significant transition point in my life, I decided to establish a goal for my life that was beyond reason. My goal is “to move 1% of the world’s population to take leadership initiative in their local communities.”  By the way, that number is 75 million people.

This my BHAG.

Good to Great and Built to Last author Jim Collins created the idea of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the BHAG, as a way to bring into perspective how goals can have a transformative effect upon people.

“A true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort– often creating immense team spirit.  It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines. … A BHAG engages people– it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.  It is tangible, energizing, highly focused.  People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation.”   

Since I first heard of this idea almost 25 years ago, it has served me as a way to focus on what is truly important. But not in the way you might think.

I compare it to how we deal with change. We don’t welcome change until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. Or seen in a different way, it is why so many plans never get fully implemented. They are not big enough to warrant our total, complete commitment.

Do you have any goals like this in your life? Most of us don’t because we are taught two opposite ideas as children. These are the first two obstacles to fulfilling our potential that we must overcome.

We are first taught to believe in ourselves, to have a healthy self-esteem. Yet, unless a belief is tied to hard work and accomplishment, belief becomes an idea without proof. If it is hard to believe in yourself if you don’t know why.

Also, we are taught not to take on extravagant goals out of fear that we might not reach them.

We must rid ourselves of the fear of failure if we are to discover who we truly are. There is a kind of tyrannical conformity that exists that says don’t extend yourself, don’t stand out, just follow the crowd. Yet, it is this very conformity that denies us the opportunity to make a difference that matters.

I received this pressure to conform to low expectations when I began to tell people my BHAG. I was surprised by the pushback. I was told it was egotistical. Here’s want Jim Collins says about this.

“The BHAGs look more audacious to outsiders than to insiders.”

For me, moving one percent of the world’s population to take personal initiative to create impact in their local communities is so big that I have to get rid of my ego so I can ask for help. I’m just one guy trying to do something really big. And yet, it really is too small to really make the difference that I want. I’ve been encouraged to increase my goal by ten times to three-quarters of a billion people.

In Vienna, I challenged the students to plan their lives in order to scale their impact to change the world. I suggested that they imagine what it would look like if they were able to create impact every minute of every hour of every day for the rest of their lives. If you were 17-years-old and live to one hundred, that would be over 45 million moments of impact. At some point during the course of their life, their true potential would come into clear perspective.

Of course, it is ridiculous to think of impacting 75 million people or living every minute of life to make a difference that matters. It is only ridiculous because we have been told it is. No one, not even you, knows what is possible if you give yourself to a goal. Only you can determine your true potential by acting to create it. I encourage you to consider your life as worth more than what is demonstrated by the safe conformity to low expectations.

Lastly, I created the Circle of Impact model of leadership as guide you to your BHAG and its fulfillment. It is a tool that can help you easily see how to resolve all the obstacles and problems that stand in your way.

The model will help you create a clear, compelling goal that inspires people to join you in your goal, and who will help you create a structure that will carry you through to the fulfillment of your idea. Then and only then, will you know what your potential could be.

If you do begin to take the steps to discover your own BHAG, then you will help me reach my own BHAG of moving 75 million people to make a difference that matters with their lives. I’ll be forever grateful to you. So will all those who will be touched by your life.

Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative to Ignite Change*Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change is available for purchase at


Dr. Ed Brenegar is a Leader for Leaders working with individuals, their teams, organizations and communities who find themselves at a point of transition. Ed has developed an innovative leadership model called, Circle of Impact, that clarifies what the impact of their life or the work of their organization can be. From this perspective, impact is the change that makes a difference that matters. Ed. for over 30 years, has inspired and equipped people and organizations to practice this fresh understanding of leadership. All leadership begins with personal initiative to create impact that makes a difference that matters. Everyone within an organization or a community can, therefore, practice leadership initiative. In so doing, they turn what were once leadership-starved organizations into leader-rich cultures that make a difference that matters.

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