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.
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.
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…
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?