Vision is crucial. It is utterly irreplaceable. No amount of execution or financial success can replace vision. Why? Because, vision can lead the creative work of an entire tribe. (Not just of a few people who think about it all the time, but for everyone.) Vision is the art of seeing things invisible, Jonathan Swift wrote. Vision is the way to imagine what is needed, and then strategy becomes about being the one to deliver on it.
Without a clear vision, everyone has to wait around and see what happens next. They have to get assignments and read smoke-signals to see which way to go. It creates a slowness, a kind of wait-n-see-ness to everything.
I see executives regularly saying that they want to “transform the business” or “win the market”, but they can’t point out an end destination. And when I ask, I usually get that, “just leave me alone” look. But here’s the deal. “Transform the business” could mean just about anything, especially to the people who weren’t in the core room where the discussion and debate happened. It leaves too much interpretation up for grabs. It is fuzzy. And fuzzy doesn’t help. Fuzzy means no one can help you do it fully because they need to keep checking in. Fuzzy doesn’t turn on the spark of creativity to generate ideas on how I can help you. Fuzzy creates a dependence, rather than allowing interdependence and action by everyone.
Vision is the Why. Without it, organizations rely on the What. As in, we do this what, and then that what. Work becomes a series of tasks when WHATs are the main course. A diet of WHATs rely on management assigning tasks to make sure all the parts of the business are covered. Why’s don’t. Why says that as long as you are clear on the goal, work with each other to get shit done. Having a good WHY allows power to be shared, for momentum to be built for stuff to happen without having to check back in. Without it, you travel in circles, covering a lot of ground but not necessarily going anywhere. You stay where you’ve been because where you are going is entirely unclear. An organization that is doing more of what they did yesterday doesn’t necessarily need a vision. But an organization that needs to reinvent what they do, surely does. Having a WHY enables a collaborative HOW. It empowers.
Vision. It paints the goal, sparks and fuels the fire of purpose, and invites everyone to play a role.
Some primers for how this plays out.
- Never, ever have a statement like “transform the business” without a “to become XYZ” at the end.
- Share the narrative of why this matters, drawing on your own history. The bigger and better the why, the more people will be drawn to it. And the more they will want you to succeed … because you are the person manifesting that vision.
- Talk about why this Vision meets others’ (customers especially) needs. If it’s all about you, then it’s not really a vision, it’s a revenue plan. Here’s the difference. The vision can happen without your firm being successful. It is beyond you. But if you execute well, the manifested vision will allow your firm to benefit.
- Vision allows you to gather resources (partnerships, commitments, strategic relationships, etc) but it also requires people to step into the vision with you. Demand that of everyone working closely with you. A vision must be shared, for it to become real.
If I am ever impatient with a team (and I am), it is because they aren’t creating a vision. And without it, all things fail. I’m always sorry that I am impatient in my expression, but not for what I am fighting for. Vision is a necessity to all growth.