Kristen Heimerl is the Principal Consultant and Founder with Minneapolis-based ‎Unmistakable Advantage. She is also the MN Cup Mentor of the Year 2016. 

This is the first edition in Heimerl’s new series for Minne Inno – Books & Big Ideas. In this series, Heimerl will combine Books with Big Ideas + Business Best Practices + Inspiration for innovators and entrepreneurs. 

Everything I’ve accomplished in my life I’ve accomplished because I had a vision, I made a plan, and I took action. In my experience, there is no workaround. These three steps are meant to go together like 3D, Harry, Hermione and Ron, and Destiny’s Child. Yes—it’s the Rule of Three.

I learned the Rule of Three inadvertently—borne of common sense, uncommon teachers, and a lot of sweat equity. Over time, as a curious student of business and strategy, I devoured any insights I could—sometimes from reading, sometimes from observation, always from doing—digesting and pressure-testing the tips and tools of the biggest thinkers and doers. I’ve studied and road-tested endless approaches to delivering results in business. But like most things in life, the compelling, transformative stuff—the stuff that sticks to the ribs—are few.

There are a lot of great reads out there today. But only a few fundamentally shift mindsets and courses of action. When it comes to thinking big, making a plan, and taking action, my favorite books and big ideas follow. These are a few of the “big ones”—the ones that drove my head, my heart, and my feet to some of my biggest successes.


An idea first conceptualized in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Phil Collins and Jerry Porras captivated and invigorated me. And that idea was the BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. A BHAG is a long-term goal that changes the very nature of a business’s existence.

BHAGs are big, bold, exciting, and tangible, and typically require a 10 to 30-year commitment. What’s the big deal about the BHAG? It gave me and every other inventive leader the freedom to say “WTF? Let’s go there!” As useful today as yesterday, the BHAG is a brilliant concept. It’s as simple as this: nothing great happens without a boundary-busting vision or end goal in mind.

Today, my go-to for boundary-busting inspiration is Grant Cardone’s The 10X Rule: The Only Difference Between Success and Failure. An odd couple Grant and I are, but I seriously love his book and his chutzpah. The 10X Rule is like the BHAG concept in that it requires extraordinarily big thinking and exceptionally high levels of action and commitment. The Big Idea in The 10X Rule? Think Bigger and Do More—10 times more than anyone else. And while the BHAG introduced in Built to Last is about building landmark companies, the 10X Rule is about achieving your dreams.

Cardone challenges the reader: “What if you set goals based on those of the top players in the world?” Steve Jobs’s goal was to “ding” the universe—and ding it he did! Cardone’s own goals, and how he writes them (as though he has already achieved them), demonstrate the 10X mindset:

  • I own 5,000 apartments that return over 12% positive cash flow.
  • I am in perfect health and physical condition.
  • I am more in love with my wife every day.
  • I own a ranch in Colorado that has incredible views of the mountains.
  • I am one of the largest donors to the organizations that are important to me.

It’s this kind of thinking that inspires and moves you to reach for the stuff in sight but out of reach. I’m living this now. I’m leading an innovation initiative that feels huge. I have no budget. No formal team. No infrastructure (we’re building it.) Most days, I run full force into organizational roadblocks and the messy remnants of outmoded systems and business processes. The environment is more quicksand than quicksilver. Crazy? Maybe. On a path to success? Absolutely.

I don’t shoot for pipedreams; I shoot for BHAGs. When I enter into them, I don’t know precisely how I’m going to achieve them, but I know I have the skills to figure it out and the drive to make it happen. Along the way, I’m fueled by the people around me—people who, like me, know the difference between mediocrity and excellence, and the difference each one feels like when we wake up each morning.


One scholar revolutionized my thinking on planning: Melind M. Lele of the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. I enrolled in his executive education course (also the title of his 1992 book), Creating Strategic Leverage. The course centered on competitive strategy (a topic for another article), but in it he delivered something powerful: The One Page Plan. Yes! One company, one strategic plan, distilled onto ONE page. Magnificent. Lele’s one-pager includes spots for just 8 key areas:

  1. Market Performance
  2. Market Structure
  3. Drivers
  4. Competitive Position
  5. Opportunities
  6. Growth Objectives
  7. Strategies & Tactics
  8. Facts & Forces

Today, there are myriad one-page plans to model, but one thing still eludes most leaders: distilling complex, multifaceted, multiyear objectives and actions into an 8 ½-x-11 sheet. My advice? Get your thoughts and ideas and plans into their simplest form. You’ll be able to maintain razor focus and get the stuff done you need to get done.

Think it’s impossible? Think your business is too complex? The markets you play in too varied? Think again. I’ve had success with monster-sized hairballs. One company had at least 25 KPIs (hmmm…oxymoron?), multiple functional plans, and no North Star to guide them beyond the current year. Fast forward three months later: a one-page plan, co-created cross-functionally that included a simple visual representation of our organizational vision, 5 long-term strategic imperatives each with one significant annual goal, and a handful of leading measures aligned with each of the strategic imperatives.

It was a thing of beauty. The coolest part? Getting from two dozen unwieldy and distracting KPIs to a few leading measures that drove the business. A consultant introduced me to the leading/lagging indicator concept several years ago, and I haven’t looked back. If you haven’t discovered it yet, check it out and put it to work for your business—along with the other disciplines of execution in this exceptional video from FranklinCovey.

Forward or Backward?

Now, more grist for the planning mill: once you have your end state in mind, is it best to plan forward, identifying steps from now to a difficult goal, or to plan backward? Check out this recent study that suggests that backward planning can make your plan clearer, more motivating, and increase your odds of attaining success.

What’s your best practice? (No—you first!)


“Nothing happens until something moves,” Albert Einstein said. Hoping, visioning, wishing upon a star—each of these behaviors has a perfectly good purpose at a perfectly good time. Time to deliver results is not one of them. If you want to experience success, you MUST take action.

Forgive me for bringing up psychology, but I have to. No exploration of taking action can occur without an exploration of the mind—of mindset. Limiting beliefs, lack of confidence, too much thinking versus doing, overwhelming stressors in our lives—all factor in to our decision To to do or not to do. And I’ve got a great book reco that covers each! But I have to choose just one, so I choose the one that’s helped me most when life’s hugest challenges were getting in the way of my getting stuff done: The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday.

Although everyone can benefit from applying the precepts of stoicism to weather the turbulent waters of life, this book will profoundly impact entrepreneurs, trailblazers, leaders of change and transformation, or anyone who has chosen to move outside of their comfort zone to take on a monumental task or challenge. When you take on a “Full Monty” life, you need a Full Monty tool.

The thing about obstructions, major life stressors, or catastrophes is just that: they feel catastrophic, like we have NO control. But Ryan reminds us, effectively, that we do have control—over pretty much everything:

  • Our emotions
  • Our judgments
  • Our creativity
  • Our attitude
  • Our perspective
  • Our desires
  • Our decisions
  • Our determination

Think what you want about Steve Jobs, but one thing’s for sure: he was entirely in control of all of these things. He was famous for what observers called his “reality distortion field.” Part motivational tactic, part sheer drive and ambition, this field made him notoriously dismissive of phrases like “It can’t be done” and “We need more time.”

The Obstacle Is the Way shows us that by managing our PERCEPTIONS, taking ACTION, and harnessing the power of our WILL, we can create a sense of peace—peace that enables us to press on despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. This is the most useful guide for anyone who wants to reach for the stars that I’ve read in months, years. Maybe ever.

* * *

I’m not going to wrap things up by saying that delivering big results is a breeze. It’s not. It can be wholly sap sucking and invigorating at the same time. But there’s a hard-and-fast rule. And it is think big, plan well, and take action. It’s easy to get stuck in the muck. Instead, focus your lens on these three steps and you will arrive at your destination.

Got a book or a big idea to share? Let’s talk! Email me at