Dream Big, Start Small



“Dreams come in a size too big so that we may grow into them.” — Josie Bisse

As Goethe, put it, boldness has genius and power and magic in it.  That’s true.

People can do great things, but they need great things worth doing.  That means starting with big dreams.  Bold dreams.

If you win the heart, the mind follows.

Too many people limit the future by focusing on what they think they can do, or what they currently think is possible.

They look through a limiting lens instead of stepping back and looking at a fresh canvas of possibility.

The better approach is to first figure out a compelling vision, the kind that moves you.

Explore the art of the possible, even if that means entertaining the ideas of what might seem impossible in the current context.

Then you can chunk your vision down into  things you can actually do, but that accrue to your bigger vision.

Dream big, start small.

Dream Big

As a leader, your job is to create the cause for creativity to flourish.

If you think about, all your really doing is practicing what Stephen Covey preached for years:

“Begin with the end in mind.”

Dreaming big sets the stage for inspired action and it sets the stage for innovation.   One of our greatest capacities as humans is to innovate our way out of big challenges and to solve big problems through creativity.

To do so, we really need to start with big, bold dreams.

That’s right, bold.

It’s those big, bold dreams that stir within us what we are truly capable of and help us realize our potential and help us shape a better world around us.

Peter Drucker made a great point about making decisions that applies to dreaming big.  Drucker wanted his leaders to always first figure out the right thing to do is.  He did not want his leadership to lead with compromise.

Here’s how Drucker put it:

“One has to start out with what is right rather than what is acceptable (let alone who is right) precisely because one always has to compromise in the end.  But if one does not know what is right to satisfy the specifications and boundary conditions, one cannot distinguish between the right compromise and the wrong compromise – and will end up by making the wrong compromise.”

Think of Big Dreams as Exciting Headlines

If you’re not dreaming big enough, it might be out of fear.  It might be out of force of habit.  Or it might just be a lack of practice.

The good news is that you probably knew how to dream big as a kid, long before anybody taught you to stop.

You already have the capacity to dream big, it’s just a matter of using that muscle.

I find it helpful to think of big dreams in terms of headlines.

If the headline is not exciting or captivating, then the dream isn’t big enough or bold enough.

Big dreams are bold headlines.

A Few Quotes on Dreaming Big

To remind myself to dream big, I often draw inspiration from the following quotes:

“Only he who can see the invisible can do the impossible.”
Frank Gaines

“The impossible is often the untried.”
Jim Goodwin

“Your world is as big as you make it.”
Georgia Douglas Johnson

“Your aspirations are your possibilities.”
Samuel Johnson

“The world is the sum-total of our vital possibilities.”
Ortega y Gasset

“The only limits are, as always, those of vision.”
James Broughton

“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

“No one has ever achieved anything from the smallest to the greatest unless the dream was dreamed first.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
“Let your imagination release your imprisoned possibilities.”
Robert H. Schuller

“In our dreams lies our unfinished work for the world.”
Joan Chittister

“If you don’t build your dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs.”
Tony Gaskins

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!”
Walt Disney

“If reality can destroy dreams, then dreams can destroy reality.”
Conway Stone

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.”
Thomas Alva Edison

“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
Walt Disney

“For those who dare to dream, there is a whole world to win.”
Dhirubhai Ambani

“Great things are only possible with outrageous requests.”
Thea Alexander

“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be; your ideal is the prophecy of what you shall at last unveil.”
James Allen

“Dreams are renewable. No matter what our age or condition, there are still untapped possibilities within us and new beauty waiting to be born.”
Dr. Dale E. Turner

“Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.”
John Updike

“Dreams, ideas, and plans not only are an escape, they give me purpose, a reason to hang on.”
Steven Callahan

“Each one of us should lead a life stirring enough to start a movement.”
Max Lucado

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. ”
Harriet Tubman

“I have had dreams, and I’ve had nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.”
Jonas Salk

“I learned that there were two ways I could live my life: following my dreams or doing something else. Dreams aren’t a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. When I dream, I believe I am rehearsing my future.”
David Copperfield

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
Thomas Jefferson

Example of Dreaming Big

Here is an example of dreaming big to help you practice.

Imagine if you wanted to transform a country and lead innovation.

How would you do it?

Start by dreaming big.

Innovation is a powerful vehicle for transformation but you have to set the right stage for it.   It’s a people, process, and tech issue.  And it’s especially a culture issue.

How would you really inspire, implement, and accelerate a culture of transformational innovation.

While I could get mired in the current state, I believe a better approach is simply to fast forward to a compelling future and paint a world where your country is leading innovation.

Simply imagine in your mind what would be the state of the art versus what is the state of the practice.

That very gap then becomes your opportunity.

Without further ado, here is how I would dream big to shape the future of a particular country…

The Vision

Your country is recognized as a leading innovation nation through its thought leadership, education, and evolution in innovation management.

Your Centers of Innovation and Entrepreneurship solve real-world challenges related to sustainable cities & communities, poverty, health & well-being, sustainable energy, education, the future of work, sustainable business and more.

Your Innovation Centers are a hallmark for high performance teams and world-class innovation practices achieving world-class performance.

Across your country, the culture shifts to embrace the future, embrace a growth mindset, and everyone is empowered to innovate.

Innovation for everyone is the hope, the promise, and the reality for a better, brighter future that attracts top talent and millennial as a destination nation to live, grow, and prosper for the foreseeable future.

A culture of diversity and inclusion creates a new modern melting pot of talent and possibilities that shape the way forward.

The Solution Concept

Through a series of innovation programs that address people, process, and technology, inspire and empower everyone to be a better innovator.

The overarching goal is to help your country build an innovation platform for better innovation while helping everyone learn the mindset, skillset, and toolset for innovation success.

Here is a summary of the key pillars that would help transform your country into a world-class leader in innovation and entrepreneurship:


For the Innovation Centers, the following innovation programs would help you become the best in the world:

  1. Agile Innovation Framework.   The goal is to create a framework that accelerates innovation and improves innovation success.  Create a common framework and language for innovation so that the Innovation Centers can rapidly share stories, scenarios, and insights.   The high value of the framework is that it will enable people from different industries and different areas of focus to work together in a more effective way.  As teams use the Agile Innovation Framework, this creates a library of scenarios.  These scenarios help build a shared language while cross-pollinating ideas across industries, leading to new breakthrough innovations.
  2. Shared Innovation Services (“Innovation-as-a-Service”).   The goal is to create high value innovation services that de-risk innovation and accelerate all innovation efforts.   Every innovation effort requires skills for doing trends & insights, building storyboards and visual demos, building technical prototypes, and creating business cases.  By having shared innovation services staffed with top talent every innovation effort can leverage these services to reduce the failure rate of innovation and to stack for success.  Initially, the Innovation Centers can use these Innovation Services internally, but imagine if they extend these services to schools and businesses and government efforts.  Imagine if schools help staff these Innovation Services as part of internships and real-world training.  Imagine if these services generate a new form of Gig economy for your country to serve the world, as business and leaders around the world are looking to consume high value Innovation Services.  These Innovation Services create and forge the jobs for the future.  Imagine a world-class Trends & Insights service staffed by top experts that helps leaders around the world understand what changing forces in the market and disruptive trends mean to them.
  3. High Performance Teams.   The goal is to improve the ability to build high performance teams.  Innovation is a team sport.  It requires diversity and inclusion to be able to embrace multiple perspectives while solving challenges.   Different people think differently and this cognitive diversity creates better solutions. Yet this same cognitive diversity can create conflict.   Teams can fail for lots of reasons, but by learning the habits and practices of high performance teams, teams and leaders will be in a much better position to take on big challenges, reduce conflict, and go through storming, norming, and performing faster and easier, in a more sustainable way, and in a way that promotes better well-being and satisfaction.
  4. Better Innovation Skills.   The goal is to educate and teach the most powerful innovation techniques that drive real-world results and help people become better innovators.   There are lots of frameworks and books on innovation, but the real key is to know which innovation skills actually help when it comes to solving problems and building solutions.    This is where through a series of educational webinars and training, leaders learn the skills that count.  By teaching the high value Innovation Skills at the Innovation Centers, this sets the stage for also teaching those same skills to schools.  This will not only prepare students for the future, but it will help reimagine education and bridge the gap between the future of work and new talent.  This will also make it easier to connect students to innovation efforts whether it’s through an Innovation Center or through a city or country-wide hack-a-thon or “dream-a-thon”.
  5. Connected Innovation Programs.   The goal here is to better connect the innovation efforts of the Innovation Centers to education and to big  ambitions for the country around sustainability and U.N. goals.  This includes bootstrapping schools with an innovation curriculum to foster, practice, and hone innovation skills early, so that students are ready for life.  It also means leveraging the Agile Innovation framework so that everybody can use the same open innovation framework whether in school, in business, in the government, or in life.

The end game is that your country is recognized for baking innovation into education and this is a backbone story for the book on how your country learned how to lead innovation.


As one of my friends put it, “Stories move mountains.”  A critical cornerstone of the transformation will be the stories of innovation.   Storytelling is an art and science and will make or break the movement.  The value of the right set of stories is the ability to rebrand your country and its ability to inspire the nation to rally around the innovation movement to shape the future of Business, education, work, and life.

This effort requires investing in good journalists as well as access to the people that have the stories.   By coming up with a repeatable approach for capturing and sharing good stories, this ensures the story of the transformation of your country is a mega-success, with stories that will win the hearts and minds of everybody in your country, as well as inspire the world.

Every story will encapsulate the challenge, the change, and the impact.

And these stories will also feed the Innovation Centers with ideas that can work across industries and inspire new ideas and solutions beyond the original story.


Additionally, launch and lead an Innovation Show that inspires the nation, captures the hearts, and educates the mind by sharing innovation stories, skills, and special guests.

An Innovation Show could be a 12 episode series that helps take innovation mainstream by making it fun, friendly, and down to Earth, while at the same time showcasing real results around your country to start a movement and create momentum to reinforce the big idea of innovation for everyone.

An Innovation Show will evangelize the art and science of innovation and get everybody talking about how innovation is helping your country change its game, and changing the world.

The show would be a modern version of Henry Ford’s Emmy award-winning innovation show, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.


To support high performance across the board and help people win at work and life, imagine if every citizen was trained in the Agile Results productivity method from the best-selling book Getting Results the Agile Way.

I would create pilots and start with the Innovation Centers and then from there would set the stage to bake Agile Results into every business and every school so that it is a natural part of helping every individual learn the skills to master productivity and achieve wellness as well as give their best where they have their best to give.


To support rapid skills transfer, build a growth mindset, and support continuous improvement, every citizen will be trained in The Mastery Method.

The Mastery Method will serve as a program for how schools teach innovation and how leaders grow innovation capabilities and skills in their organizations.

Start Small

Once you have your big dream down on paper, the trick is to translate it into doable indicatives.  This means chunking your big idea down into the smaller ideas that will help pave the path toward the end in mind.

Covey would be proud.

Keeping in mind that “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, at least you have a North Star to aim for.

Here is how Israelmore Ayivor put it:

“You are likely to vomit your dreams if you take too much at a time. Take it one after the other and don’t over-eat the dreams you have! Dream big, but start small!”

As a good rule of thumb, I like to focus on quick hits as low hanging fruit to build momentum.  I also like to chunk a big program or project down into a series of themes and iniatives.

I then prioritize those initiatives against impact and ability to execute.

It always amazed me how many people make a list of ideas that they can’t do, when there is so much they can do today that would profoundly transform what they are capable of.

Or worse, they focus on a bunch of low impact ideas, simply because they are easy to do.

And that’s what separates the game changers from the ones who stay stuck or fall behind.

Example of Starting Small

Here is a simple way to get stared with a focus on very real, very actionable, very pragmatic things:

  1. Get the Innovation Centers sharing and learning around Customer Scenario Patterns.   Just by doing that one thing would create a culture for innovation, and it would be a catalyst for rapid learning.  It would basically be a way to  build a future catalog of value that would open the doors for solution teams, for big businesses, for leaders, etc.   And yet it’s very focused, and very precise.
  2. Bake innovation into the school system with a simple pilot in a single school.   Then repeat 3 times, then scale.     This is the classic innovate, incubate, scale system.    The purpose of the first pilot would be to generate first-hand learning from what the first school learned, and then add refinements.  Then drive deep dives with 3 more schools to get the big kinks out, and to build 3 stories with the media where they follow along.  Then the scale is the rollout broadly based on the deep dive learnings.
  3. The Innovation Show.   This would have incredible impact on everybody.   It involves simply making videos with the people that are making a difference.  It creates a catalog of inspiration and fodder to change the world.   To start, I would simply outline 12 episodes with guests that would be great to learn from and share their stories.   Imagine also using the show to instigate a Dream-a-Thon for your country.  In that episode, a roundtable of leaders would share their top challenges then say to the viewers, hack at it, and submit your winning ideas for prizes.  Maybe the prize is simply to showcase their winning idea on a future show, or maybe it’s more.

While that might not be perfect, it’s a very clear way to start to make progress toward the end in mind.

The big idea is to keep the main thing the main thing.

And one of the tricks is to make sure that the small doesn’t get in the way of the big, or to ride off in all directions and never accrue to the North Star vision.

Most of All, Start

Simon Sinek put it well:

“Dream big. Start small.  But most of all, start.”

An amazing thing happens when you start to execute your dreams.  You learn.

You learn what works.  You learn what doesn’t.  You learn what you need to learn next.

As long as you stay committed to your outcome, but flexible in your approach, you will make progress.

That progress becomes a platform for future potential.

There is another interesting thing that happens too, as you hack your way forward.

You gain new vantage points.

Your world will start to look very different from your new vantage points, and from these new vantage points you will start to see new possibilities for the future.

And that is the cycle of continuous innovation in practice.

How the McKinsey 3 Horizon Planning Model Fits In

The 3 Horizons model is a growth strategy framework by McKinsey.  It helps you think about the future and manage growth in a coordinated way.

The power of the 3 Horizon framework is that it offers a way to concurrently manage both current and future opportunities for growth.

It’s a helpful framework for balancing competing demands of focusing on the present while investing for the future.

  1. Horizon One (H1) – core products and markets for your current revenue.
  2. Horizon Two (H2) – products that are relatively new and emerging in the product line or existing products aimed at new or unfamiliar markets.
  3. Horizon Three (H3) – potential new product opportunities for future growth and profit in the longer-term future.  This might be anything from early ideas to R&D projects to pilots with customers.

The key to Horizon 3 is new business models, or new ways to create and capture value.

The McKinsey 3 Horizon model is actually a good way to help you Dream Big, Start Small.

If you think of the Horizon 3 as your North Star vision, this will help you keep it in focus while managing your current growth.

This can help you link today’s small business experiments to your future vision.

Here is a good overview of the McKinsey 3 Horizon Framework:
Enduring Ideas:  The three horizons of growth

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