Strategy | Opinion

Hope is not a strategy (but we still need it)

Hope is not a strategy (but we still need it)

Whilst hope has its place as a positive mindset, it can never be the sole basis of strategy or decisive action. Henry France, our Head of Strategy, explores why blind hope is dangerous and can prevent us from making the right decisions at the right time.​

Hope: to want something to happen or to be true, and usually have a good reason to think that it might

There is an old military adage used that states that hope is not a strategy. But it’s in the human condition to hope because it gives us faith that something is possible – an essential mindset for positivity. So why, then, is hope dangerous in the context of strategy?

We all need hope. But blind hope, when used as the sole basis of a strategy, sets us up for failure because of its inherently ‘fluffy’ nature, especially when founded on delusion, fiction and unrealistic presumption. Wanting something to happen is a long way from strategically thinking and planning for different scenarios. Hope does have a place in formulating vision, but it has no place in strategic planning and taking decisive action for positive change. Strategic planning demands clear-headedness from leadership teams and a pragmatic view of reality for all its positives and negatives. It requires the acceptance of failure and the necessity to learn and move on.

But avoiding hope altogether can incline us towards an unwavering pessimism, procrastination and indecisiveness. It’s human nature to have faith in people, processes, and tools because otherwise, how do you achieve anything? In a recent client meeting I heard the phrase, “It’s like eating an elephant, where do you start?” Simply by looking at the size of a task, the complexity of the issue, and the ingrained habits of a group can cause anxiety and acute stress. Two sure-fire ways to short circuit our decision making abilities when assessing risk versus gain and risk versus loss. And so it’s natural to turn to hope to preserve a positive mindset.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

Hope inherently encourages misty-eyed thinking, it rounds off the corners of life’s sharp edges and blinkers us to a future that might not be founded on reality. Hope as a strategy, rejects facts and glosses over evidence. We must distinguish between hope as a positive thinking attitude and hope as a strategy. Positive thinking in and of itself is incredibly damaging when it ignores facts, data and past performance. Hope, when used as a replacement for sound judgment, is deadly.

It tends to ignore what’s gone before or at least minimise the lessons learnt. This could be said for the current COVID-19 crisis given the history of previous pandemics. In 2015, following the Ebola outbreak, Bill Gates warned us that the greatest risk of global catastrophe would be likely due to a highly infectious virus and that we weren’t ready for it. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but blind hope, in this case, proved lethal.

Blind hope encourages delusional thinking by promoting the positives that cut the legs off the negatives. So, fundamentally, hope clouds the ability to make and take intelligent decisions and actions based on what we stand to gain or lose from a situation. The result can range from mildly tone deaf actions to disastrous strategic decisions, of which no brand is immune.

We must have sound judgment supported by honest motives and our willingness to accept the facts for what they are. At its most useful level strategic thinking is a creative thought process but it isn’t always a linear path. It can need a leap of faith with a degree of calculated risk. So hope can play an important role in strategic thinking but it’s imperative that it’s used to define the right actions to achieve strategic goals. Hope should materialise only when the necessary fact finding, research and due diligence has been done to instil a sense of confidence and trust.

Using hope as a mindset

We cannot predict the future. To do so would be foolish. Whilst past performance cannot guarantee future success, it can help us make smart, educated guesses based on what has happened before. Add to the mix being well researched in current sector trends, emerging technologies and tactics, and you are well versed to make informed decisions and take decisive action. This is often the reason brands look to external partners to help guide them and give them that outside perspective.

“We know that investment in SEO will generate more traffic which we hope will convert at the same ratio, which will generate x more income”

“We hope our new brand will be well received by the market because we know our customers due to the extensive research we’ve done”

“We expect sales figures to reach £1m in the first quarter. We hope the sales match the previous year as a minimum”

Scientifically, why is hope important? There are many obstacles in life and having goals alone is not enough. You must get closer and closer to those goals, amidst all the inevitable twists and turns in life.

“Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset and strategy-set suitable to success, thereby increasing the chances they will actually accomplish their goals.” Psychology Today: The Will and Ways of Hope

If we know that pragmatism, being well-prepared and education gives us ideas for improving performance, we need hope to ensure that we follow through and achieve the goals we lay out for ourselves.

I often think that the famous quote that hope is not a strategy is slightly misconstrued as wishful thinking. ‘Hope’ and ‘wishing’ are not the same thing.

"Wishing is ubiquitous, but it can be kind of an escape from reality. Hope is different because it has to do with facing reality… as I see it, hope is motivation to stay in the game."American Psychology Association: Mission impossible

It’s therefore not a surprise to see high performing business leaders, athletes and important social and political figureheads reference hope as one of the key ingredients of success and what drives them.

To set effective strategies, be an inspiring leader or even a high functioning human-being; hope is essential. But hope alone is not a strategy. Instead, creating an action-based strategy that will come to fruition and reap rewards needs hope to succeed rather than mere wishful thinking that things will be alright in the end.

Talk to us about active strategy and how we can help you take decisive action today to make progress tomorrow.