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THE INC. LIFE

The Battle for Amazon’s HQ2 Has A Surprising Twist: Losing Cities Still Win in the End

That sound you heard was hearts breaking in scorned cities trying to land Amazon’s second HQ. But there’s an encouraging twist to the story.

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BY Scott Mautz - 01 Feb 2018

The Battle for Amazon's HQ2 Has A Surprising Twist: Losing Cities Still Win in the End

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

A whole lot of city mayors recently got what we used to call in college a "ding-letter"--a painful rejection along the lines of "Thanks for applying for Amazon HQ2 consideration, but....."

I pictured many more hard-working, big-dreaming staffers (that may have even overcome a fear of failure with the bold ploy) shuffling back to their desks, visions of a flood of high-paying jobs dashed against the cruel brick wall of an unused warehouse.

Surely the thought has surfaced, "Was that worth all the effort?"

Cities poured tremendous effort into creative proposals and shared information on local talent pools, tax breaks they could offer, transportation plans, local amenities, and workforce training programs. All for naught.

Or so they thought.

In fact, there's a hidden benefit for all the losing cities, as the New York Times recently reported. Amazon now has what the Times termed "free research" on key city attributes like the aforementioned that could still attract substantial secondary investment in things like warehouse space and satellite offices.

As Amazon's head of economic development, Holly Sullivan, said in a statement:

"Through this process, we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation."

While not the mother lode of 50,000 jobs and billions of dollars in construction development, such investments would be one heck of a consolation prize. Amazon has more than 300 warehouse and shipping centers around the world, a number that's growing rapidly. It also has 12 R&D satellite offices in places like Boston focused on robotics or San Diego focused on video game development.

Hope still springs eternal.

This got me thinking about what happens when we go for a big stretch goal, our own version of a second Amazon HQ. There are certainly many pros and cons to pursuing big goals--these are the most commonly cited:

Pros

  1. It turbocharges learning and personal growth. Even if you don't make it all the way to the stretch target.
  2. It encourages smart risk-taking. Although see the caveat to this in Cons.
  3. It attracts the best talent. This includes people who want to work in an exciting work environment.

Cons

  1. It can be demotivating. Especially when you fall far short.
  2. It can encourage excessive risk-taking. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
  3. It can incite unethical behavior. I've personally witnessed the downside of the pursuit of a stretch goal where some unscrupulous behavior began to surface and the joy of reaching that goal felt utterly tarnished.

So when is it right to go after a stretch goal and when is it folly?

Stretch goal experts recently shared insight on this in the Harvard Business Review stating:

"Organizations that would most benefit from them seldom employ them, and organizations for which stretch goals are probably not a good strategy often turn to them in a desperate attempt to generate breakthroughs."

Success at achieving a stretch goal depends on recent performance and availability of resources. Recent performance is an indicator of future trends and it also speaks to the mindset/motivation level of employees. Availability of resources (or not) can mean major shifts in the degree of difficulty.

These experts indicated that the only scenario where it makes sense to go for a stretch goal is on businesses that are thriving--as long as feelings of complacency can be overcome.

Are you working on a business that is confident but resource constrained? Bypass the moonshot and go for a progression of incremental wins. Are you working on a business that's failing but reaching high for a home run? Stick to smaller wins until you see progress that begins to turn the tides.

So net, if armed with business momentum and assuming you can overcome any ho-hum, aim high.

(Note to self, remind Alexa to order some business momentum).

Now let's think about this guidance in relation to the cities that fell short in the Amazon bonanza. I'd like to believe that there weren't many failing, grasping cities on the original list of 238. Granted, maybe there were some that were too resource/benefits-to-offer constrained.

But more importantly, I think the stretch goal experts missed one important side effect of aiming high; the "secondary success" you achieve as a result of going for it--success you wouldn't have achieved without the moonshot mindset.

Case in point, a lot more cities are going to be winners than was originally thought.

So starting from a place of "business health" is fair advice for potential moonshooters. But also remember there may be other stars to collect even if you don't get the whole galaxy.

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