Dream a Little Dream

When you tell someone your dreams and they don’t laugh, you’re not dreaming big enough.

One of my mentors had a huge whiteboard in his office. Written in small letters in the upper left corner was this message — “DREAM BIG THINGS!”

Leaders are dreamers. They see a picture before others even approach the canvas. They say it out loud before others begin to repeat it. They dream it before others do it.

Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States and British governments formed a collaborative to assign production targets for the impending war effort. This sub-committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff became known as the Munitions Assignment Board (MAB).

The chart below captures the initial production goals to be announced by President Roosevelt in January 1942 during a message to Congress.

Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The demand got bigger.

“It was in Roosevelt’s nature to believe that the surest way to capture the imagination of the American people was to give them the greatest possible challenge. The total cost in money bothered him not at all; he always believed that it was far better to squander the taxpayers’ dollars than to squander the taxpayers.”*

When first presented the numbers above, both military and civilian authorities alike responded with doubt, and in some cases, despair. Officers in the War Department are on record as stating, “The President has gone in for the numbers racket!” Some even referred to FDR’s numbers as a “dangerous fantasy.”

However, on the eve of his speech to Congress in January 1942, the President was concerned that the country wasn’t dreaming big enough, so he — without asking anyone else — arbitrarily revised the figures northward. In doing so, he raised the sights of the American people.

When addressing Congress the next day Roosevelt said, “These figures and similar figures for a multitude of other implements of war will give the Japanese and Nazis a little idea of just what they accomplished in the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

In response Congress cheered and appropriated the necessary funds. The American people got to work and achieved what others deemed impossible.

President Roosevelt’s dream paid off. After fewer than the two years set for its completion had passed, Joseph Stalin raised his glass at Tehran and proposed a toast to American production, “without which this war would have been lost.”

Leaders are dreamers, so dream a little dream with me. For after all, as Zig Ziglar said, “Without a dream, there would be no dream come true.”

Roosevelt and Hopkins, An Intimate History, Robert E. Sherwood, Harper and Brothers, 1948

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