On Vision

This is a post that has been percolating as a draft post for nearly two or three months now.  But as a theme, its something I’ve wrestled with far longer.  Those who know me well, know that at my core, I’m kind of a systems and strategy kind of guy. What makes gets my ticker picking up its pace,  is when I get to work with a big picture idea and help generate/coach the strategies and systems to see that that big picture come alive and grow.  And so, that’s why this post reflects something that strums the passion bone in my body.

I want to spend a little bit of time articulating some things I’ve come to believe about a word that gets used a lot,  but is rarely understood fully.   This post is sparked in part because I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what vision is, and what it is not.  Part of that is because its so elusive, and part of it is because it frequently rides the buzzword wave.  So here’s what I think about vision:

Vision inspires curiosity.

You know you’ve heard, read, or experienced vision when it leaves you hanging,  when it sparks that desire in you to know more.  That’s why some of the most compelling visions are those that paint a picture, or connect a story, with a future.

Vision does not answer all the questions.  It doesn’t tell you how something is going to happen.  It doesn’t tell you when something is going to happen.  It sometimes doesn’t even articulate where.  But compelling vision will always leave you with questions.

In the end, vision begs strategy because it inspires curiosity.

Vision Polarizes.

This is crucial.  A vision that everyone likes, is not vision, its a sedative.  The reality is, visionaries (you know, those people with a vision), have a lot of enemies.  They get a lot of flak and its often only in hindsight through the eyes of history, when they start to get labelled visionaries, that the animosity tapers down a bit.  The reality is, really compelling visions have haters and lovers.  A compelling vision is something that either calls people to it, or repels them.

It polarizes.

Coincidentally, that’s why vision is so powerful.  While a vision is polarizing, its also uniting. How?  People who are captivated by the vision, who buy into it share a common cause – a cause worth fighting for.  Sedatives, don’t inspire that kind of passion, or unity.

This also means that its really difficult for a committee to come up with a vision.  Committees are great for hashing out ideas, for brainstorming, for strategizing, for planning, coming up with mission statements, x year plans, etc..  But not for creating vision.  If a vision is launched by a committee I can pretty much guarantee you it will be safe, not polarizing and ultimately, not really a vision. Maybe what they’ll have is a really great mission statement, or slogan, or even a plan – but not a vision.

Incidentally, this also means, that great visions aren’t always popular, and not so great visions sometimes are.

Vision is an “impossible” future.

More than just a picture of something different than the status quo, on the surface, visions seem impossible.  That’s because visions paint a picture of something that isn’t in the midst of what is.  Anything else isn’t a vision it’s just a report.

This is also why having a vision is not the same thing as having a goal.  With vision, you don’t even know if it will come to pass.  You dream for it, you desire it, you’re passionate for it (if you’ve caught it), you even pursue it,  but at times it seems so impossible that you’re not sure you’ll ever see it happen.

Sometimes you don’t.

A goal on the the other hand is something you expect to reach.  It has an obtainable finish line.  Difficult maybe, and certainly something you may not complete.  But nevertheless can happen.  It’s possible.  Visions aren’t really like that.

This is one of the reasons why visions are so polarizing because some people will hear a vision and laugh at the audacity of those who believe in that vision.  “Such an impossible goal!”, they say.  Except, its not a goal.

A goal is deciding that you are going to quit smoking.  A vision is seeing the entire world free of the addiction of tobacco.

A goal is to build a rocket to reach orbit.  A vision is to land a man on mars.

A goal is to build an electric car.  A vision is to end humanities dependence on oil.

Catch the drift?  Oh and here’s another little interesting thing.  Visions are realized by goals. Lots and lots of incremental, obtainable, strategical, itty bitty, goals. The impossible reached by a long chain of possibles.  But it all starts with a dream for something outrageous.

This is why…

Vision requires sacrifice.

To get from here to there is going to take a lot more than wishful thinking.  If a vision is a picture of something impossible, then it its not a skip, hop, and dilly dally dance away.  It’s hard work, and perseverance, and endurance and sweat and tears, and loss, and pain to get there.  Sounds like fun doesn’t it?

The interesting thing is, compelling vision has increased value because of the cost to achieve it.  But conversely, without any cost, does the end really matter?

That’s why its interesting to watch what happens with people who are captivated by a vision.  No amount of sacrifice seems too much to inch closer to realizing that impossible reality.

Vision doesn’t always generate a movement.  But it always starts with one person.

The funny thing about vision, is that it sometimes can be so polarizing that the only person who believes it, is the one in who it was birthed.  Vision can live and die in the life of one individual.  Sad, but true (and sometimes good).

But the underlying truth, is that regardless of whether vision results in a movement or not, it is always birthed in the heart and soul of a single person.  Call it muse, or God given, or calling, or inspiration – but that spark is awakened in some guy or some gal and lives when they can’t shake it, and then embrace it.

Yet another equal and perhaps even more powerful truth, is that while a vision starts with one person, it never gets completed with just one.  That’s why I’ve found that a vision often lives and dies on how well it gets communicated, and I guess in the end, how polarizing (and thus compelling) it really is.

Vision isn’t taught, it’s caught.

You can’t teach people vision.  You invite them.  You can’t reason vision with people. After all, it’s impossible right? No, reasoning doesn’t work.  You inspire, you challenge…

You lead.

Visionaries, don’t get people on their vision train by fancy billboards, and great marketing campaigns (it only seems like they do).  Great visionaries have a vision that captivates people because they are living it, they are leading it.  An impossible reality, that’s already real to them.

Vision is not complicated.

Ha! Once the planners and the strategy masters, and engineers start mapping out the goals to see that impossible vision become reality, it certainly starts to seem complicated. But the vision itself, the essence of what gets dreamed about and communicated, and shared, isn’t complicated.

It may be impossible, but it’s simple. If you can’t remember a vision, then it’s complicated, and not really a vision (probably more a plan).

But let’s not confuse a slogan with a vision. Slogans are birthed from visions, but a vision never comes from a slogan. When you hear the well known slogan “I have a dream”, you immediately connect it with the vision Martin Luther King Jr. had for a better world.

Without the vision, “I have a dream” is just an incomplete sentence.

What’s your vision?

Here’s another somewhat uncomfortable truth.  Some of us will never have vision sparked, or birthed in us (and unfortunately some people uncomfortable with that try to manufacture it).  The reality is, that’s okay.  I believe that some of us were never meant to birth the vision…

But all of us are meant to carry a vision.

In the end…

These are just a few thoughts and observations I’ve had/made about vision.  As time goes on there likely will be more I could add (and may add) to this post.  But for now, just wanted to get this written out.  What do you think about vision?  What would you add to this?

 

 

path not plan

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately.  We’ve all heard the phrase,

“Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

Right, but also wrong.  I’ve seen people who are terrible planners succeed, and people who are meticulous planners fail.

Yet something else, seems to work.  Path.  Those who have a path, who have a direction, who have an idea of where they are going – that beats planning every time.  Why?  Because, those who are creating a path can change their plans.  Those who just plan might get the plan down pat but then miss the path.

Sometimes you may follow the path someone else blazed before you.
Then other times, you blaze your own path.

Maybe it’s just a play on words but I like the idea of path over plan (even though I’m a planner at heart). I like the idea that I have a path to follow rather than a plan to execute.  There are a lot of paths to choose from, even a few that may need creating – but that’s where the learning and the skill and the risk comes in – because that choice does matter.

Failing, doesn’t depend on your plan (or lack of it).  It depends on your path.

Choose wisely.

Sin

Sin is the propensity for humans to live as if they are God. Sin is the decision to live life away from God rather than toward him. This decision can be subtle or blatant. It involves a contest of wills between humans and God. It is the oldest contest in the world, the pride of life, the saying yes to the temptation to live as if we humans are not accountable for our lives moment by moment to our Maker. Sin is the failure to surrender life, moment by moment, to the rule of God. We sin when we place ourselves in charge of our lives.

– Reggie McNeal
A Work of Heart – Understanding How God shapes Spiritual Leaders

To reach the finish line you have to do something…

I often find myself looking at all the things I have to finish (because of my obscenely large todo list) and it overwhelms me and I shut down.  I’ll end up procrastinating and wasting time because I don’t think I have enough time to get started and finish something in the time I have in the moment.  I discovered a secret.

It is what you do in the moments that bring progress and eventually lead to a finish.

Are you stuck because what you have in front of you seems to big to accomplish in the time you have to get it done?  Then capture your moments and do something that brings you closer to the finish line.  Resolve that you may not finish it in that moment, but you will be closer than what you were before.

Don’t stay stuck, get started.

Do something.

The finish will come quicker than you thought it would.

getting in the Word

This entry is part 10 of 11 in the series 2011: A look back A look forward

I’ve been away from here again for a few days and it’s turning this series I’ve been writing into a month long reflection.  Nevertheless, I am determined to finish this! So let’s continue (if you’re new to this series, you can click here for some context).

Here’s what I wrote last year:

I love YouVersion.com and thanks to the many Bible Reading plans they’ve made available, I’m going to be reading through the Bible (again) this year.  If you don’t read the Bible, you should – it’s one of the best things you can do (and the digerati team behind youversion has made it so easy!) My wife and I are working through a plan together as well.

What happened:

I made it halfway through the M’Cheyne plan that I was working on.  Kind of bummed I didn’t complete it but I try not to be religious in my Bible reading (otherwise it becomes a chore, it should never be a chore!).  My wife and I didn’t complete the reading plan we were working on together either (Blended) – so many days where we just collapsed exhausted in bed together.  I’m missing this though so I want to get back on track with another one this year.  Now that we both have iPhones it should be easier to work together on this.

What I learned:

About myself:  I work best with routine, but need to change it up once and a while.  Otherwise it becomes just that, routine instead of reward.  There IS NO SET FORMULA for when, where, how, or how much you should read!  YouVersion has REALLY helped me with breaking the shackles of routine.

About  my spirit:  Spiritually speaking, the Word of God is “soul food” for me.  I definitely feel it when I go any extended time without just reading the Bible with an open heart and spirit, expecting to hear from God.  There’s almost an edginess, and dullness that exists in my life without it.   Not only that, but I have found that my creative output goes down as well.

What about you?  How does reading the Bible affect your life (or not)… and why do you think that is?

memory work

This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series 2011: A look back A look forward

It’s time for another post in this series.  Here’s another thing I wrote last year around this time:

I’m going to be memorizing scripture through the year along with others in my church family who are joining in the journey (I’ll be posting about this sometime in the next two weeks).  My 8 year old daughter is also participating and when I sent her an email (yes she has email – I’ve introduced her to the Google Behemoth)  to tell her that I’m doing it too she replied, “Neat. Bring it on Dad”.  The gloves are down.

What happened:

I’ve been memorizing every scripture every week and have about 38-40 scriptures memorized  REALLY well and probably the rest I’m still working on.  I’ve used a variety of tools to help me with this through the year but have settled on this iPhone app.  Unfortunately my daughter didn’t have the stamina to keep up with her Dad (of course, at 9 years old, she’s got enough stuff going on!)  BUT the cool thing is she is reading her Bible every day and goes out of her way to show me the latest stuff she’s reading.  I love it!

What I learned:

  • You may think you can’t memorize stuff.  But you can.  It still amazes me when I review the verses that I can even recite them from memory.
  • Having scripture memorized enhanced my prayer life.  There have been so many times when I’ve been praying for something and a verse came to mind that “fit in” with what I was praying.  Powerful.
  • Another benefit is that I’m finding when I read the Bible, the overall themes are more apparent because of the scripture I’ve memorized.  I find myself thinking, “hey, that sounds familiar to something over in_______”, where the blank is a scripture I memorized.
  • Memorizing scripture has helped improve my memory overall.  This was unexpected, but I am finding that I’m remembering things easier than before.  Names come easier.  The coding I do goes quicker because I’m not having to look up functions as much.  Remembering I locked my van door is easier (those who heard me talk about that in a message I spoke last year will know what I’m talking about).

All in all this has been something that I’ve found to be a VERY beneficial discipline.  Have any of you had experience with memorizing things?  How has it worked for you?  What benefits have you noticed?

what matters

This entry is part 8 of 11 in the series 2011: A look back A look forward

Been away from here the last couple days, but now I’m back.  Let’s continue this series shall we?  Last year I wrote a “looking forward” kind of post for some of the things I hoped to accomplish, change in the coming year.  This year I’m writing a series of post reflecting on that list and what happened in 2010.  Here’s the next item on the list that I wrote:

I’m going to continue working on being a great Dad and husband to my family…if I fail at that, then it doesn’t matter what else I succeed at.

What happened:

A work in progress!  I think I’m not doing too bad, but I know I could always do better.  One of the hardest things for me in the past year was balancing my time.  Between my full time job at my church, the freelance work I did, and my work on Organize Series, it’s been a challenge spending the quality time needed to be a good husband and father.  I know I could have done better – correction: I know I MUST do better.  Why? Because it’s one of the few things that really matters.

There are some things I’m doing to get better at this and I’ll hopefully write a blog post about it at some point.  But for now, I’d love to hear from you, my readers about what you do to make sure you are investing quality time for the things that really matter in your life?  So let me hear it in the comments!

pro-bono

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series 2011: A look back A look forward

This post continues the series I’ve been writing as I reflect on 2010.  This has been neat thinking through some of the things I aimed for in the New Years post I wrote last year and what actually happened.  Let’s continue:

I hope to continue volunteering for some great causes (along with continuing the work I do for vohmalawi.org and vohzimbabwe.com).

What happened

I still continue to support both Villages of Hope in Malawi and Zimbabwe  along with developing and maintaining their websites (pro-bono, you knew you’d find out the reason for the title of this post right?) .  This continues to be something I LOVE doing.  Here’s why:

  1. Anything to do with web development is ice cream to me. I like ice cream.
  2. These two organizations are doing incredible work in providing hope and a future to kids who have little of both.  They’ve captured my heart.
  3. The people working there have sacrificed much to get there and continue what they’re doing.  I want to do what I can to make their job communicating things a little bit easier.
  4. There’s IMMENSE satisfaction knowing that you are using your skills and abilities to contribute to making a difference in the world. I know God smiles at the work I do for them.

What I learned

I’ve had to be a good steward of my time.  There are so many things I want to do but there’s only 24 hours in a day and I have to be careful of the things I choose to do.  Sometimes that means choosing what I won’t do.  In order to keep doing the websites for these folks I have had to choose to cut back in some other areas of my life.  Which is okay (reread my list above for why).

There have been different points through the year where I’ve had to revisit this important principle when I realized that I was taking on more than I should and not letting things go (that may be good, but not better than something I want to add to my life).

I challenge you to take a look at your gifts and abilities.  Is there something you are giving them to, that makes a difference in the world?  There’s nothing like it.  I’d love to hear about it!

Oh and another thing I wrote last year:

I may be going on a trip to Siberia this year.  Yes, that’s crazy.

Yes it was crazy.  I didn’t go. It was one of those things I had to say no to.  This February I’m going to Malawi (to the Village of Hope there actually!!) and I may be going to the Ukraine in April.  You’ll hear more about these in the future.