Vision, one of the most popular buzzwords in business, has been discussed in management literature, offices and boardrooms around the world. Yet I think it remains one of the most misinterpreted and underused concepts in business.
Here’s an example of the word “vision” that has become so common. At a recent meeting with Stan, the VP of sales in a large software company, I asked, “What is the vision for your company?”
He gave me a blank look, reached into his drawer and then pulled out a 3x5 card. He started reciting the words printed on that card. His voice was dry, monotone, as if he was reading a legal document and his face revealed no enthusiasm whatsoever. I couldn’t blame him… the words he read were downright boring.
I thought, “This executive doesn’t get it. He is reading a vision without seeing one.”
Stan was lost in the fog.
Fog can be very dangerous
I invite you on a road trip, starting in the San Francisco Bay area. Let’s imagine it’s a beautiful summer day. We rent a convertible sports car at the airport and set off south towards the coast.
The sun is shining brightly as we head south toward Monterey, and the curvy road traces a tricky path between the vast blue ocean on our right and the sheer, rocky cliffs on the left.
With the top down and the music up, we speed along, delighted with the spectacular view or the ocean on one side and the picturesque mountains on the others, while our conversations are flowing.
Then, as often happens in this area, a cloud of fog creeps in off the ocean. Feeling more cautious, we instinctively slow down.
Eventually we stop the car, put up the roof, turn down the music and continue on our way. Now we’re moving at a much slower pace, feeling a little uncertain on the curvy road.
We think about the sheer drop off to the right, and instead of lighthearted banter, we speak in serious tones. Our trip isn’t so fun anymore.
40 minutes later the fog grows thin then fades away entirely. As the visibility improves, so does our mood. Our smiles return, we pick up speed, and we find ourselves appreciating the journey much more.
Now, for the moral of the story...
Many organisations – and even more individuals – are trying to direct and manoeuvre themselves through the fog. Because they can’t see very far ahead, they feel cautious, afraid of making quick, bold decisions, and they avoid risk. Instead of feeling energised, they feel hesitant.
Companies and professionals in a fog are usually so focused on the immediate road ahead – the problems, quotas, quarterly profits, stock price and other key performance indicators – that they lose direction for the long term and of the big picture.
Without a strong vision and sense of direction, and a large enough perspective to see down the road, people and companies become nearsighted, overly cautious and uninspired. Over time, this dramatically compromises their speed and progress.
This is the danger of being lost in a fog.
On the other hand, with a clear, sharp, compelling vision of the future, people get excited. They become surprisingly innovative and committed. They plan ahead, set ambitious targets, and take inspired action. That’s the power of vision unleashed.
The unifying power of vision
One of my coaching clients, Irene, was responsible for coordinating Microsoft’s Windows products in Northern Europe. Her biggest challenge was to integrate the marketing efforts and allocate the budget so that the customer experiences “one Microsoft,” not several separate divisions.
We discussed how to get all the constituents engaged and on the same page. I suggested they develop a shared vision, a compelling image that all can relate to and feel enthusiastic about, and I encouraged her to use pictures to illustrate the desired objective.
She said to me, “It’s funny you say that. When my kids were younger, we went on a family vacation to Spain.
They wanted to know what Spain would be like, so I described the warm weather and sunny beaches, the lively music and spicy foods. I even drew them a picture. They got a vivid image in their minds and grew very excited for the trip. They even started to pack their luggage a week in advance.
This year, when I told them to pack their bags for our family vacation, they whined and complained and dragged their feet. They didn’t want to go! At first I was surprised and dismayed, but then I realised that I hadn’t engaged them with a compelling picture. We weren’t on the same page at all.”
The same thing is happening in her company:
“I tell people what to do, we agree on goals, I hold them accountable… but no one feels very excited about our plans. I haven’t given them a strong, inspiring reason to achieve.”
We talked about the vision that Bill Gates promoted when he and his team founded Microsoft in the 1970s. They had a strong belief that the future would be ruled by personal computing. “A desktop computer on every desk” was the vision.
How clear is that picture? They discussed this vision on a regular basis and used it as fuel to propel their production. Sure enough, that vision came true. Windows 95 was a huge success.
Here is a practical exercise for the visioning process. As you relax, imagine yourself achieving and enjoying your most personal desires. See them as if you were previewing three television shorts:
- Picture yourself in one sequence achieving a professional triumph (imagine the award ceremony, promotion announcement, or bonus payment).
- Picture yourself in another scene involving family, friends, and happiness (imagine a special reunion or an event together with your closest friends).
- Picture yourself in another setting in which you alone are relishing a personal victory (imagine a club tennis or golf championship, writing a book, taking an adventurous travel trip).
Get the actual sensation of each event and how good it feels to experience each one. Draw, paint or write down the different scenes, and more importantly, see them happening in your mind. See and feel those self-created images before you go to sleep each night and upon awakening each morning.
With either approach, be sure to use the 3 Ps: see it in present tense, use positive language, and build vivid pictures.
These will help you supercharge the vision with emotion, generating energy to carry you across the finishing line. The more specific and compelling you make your vision, the more interested in it you become.
When it gets really interesting, it becomes utterly compelling. It begins to generate its own energy, and anyone who sees it feels pulled in, energised, and focused on the desired result.
An effective vision in business is inspiring, clear and challenging.
It stresses flexibility and execution, stands the test of time, is aimed at engaging and empowering yourself, your team and your organisation, and prepares you and the people around you for exciting future.