Issue 2.6 | January 2011

In this Article: why a gripping vision will inspire, compel and sustain your company toward the achievement of great things.

by Jonathan Wilson

Standing on the slopes of a remote village along the Balim River in New Guinea, there is a vision to the east that seizes one’s eye and holds it fast (see above).  Here the morning sun rises over high ridges that fold into one another, hiding distant valleys and waterfalls.  This was my primary home for nearly two decades, and as a child I would often gaze and imagine what it must be like to be in those high, beckoning valleys.

Vision – whether for oneself or for one’s company – is a little bit like this.  It is a picture of something not quite in reach, something still in the distance, except, in this case, the distance is not geographical, but chronological and existential.  At the same time, if the vision is compelling enough, the distance between current reality and the vision does not drive one away from the picture, but back to it, again and again.

When you read your company’s vision statement, does it have this power over you?  Does the vision it describes compel you and draw you back, again and again, to the dream of a new possibility?

Vision statements in companies today are too often the result of dutiful exercise rather than the articulation of a genuine dream, held within the company, about what the future could look like.  The statements that result from such exercises are often generic and dry; and rarely compelling.

At other times, vision is confused with purpose, values and other categories of similar ilk.  As a result it conveys little sense of an anticipated new reality.  Coca Cola has seven “P’s” in its vision statement, each of which describes a condition so generic that it is unclear as to how it separates future reality from present reality: e.g. “Planet: Be a responsible citizen that makes a difference by helping build and support sustainable communities”.  This, along with its other “P’s”, states a commitment, not a vision.

Worse yet is a vision that is in essence a fantasy, a grandiose picture (usually egotistical) of the company’s future stature in the market.  For example, one company has said, “We aspire to be the most admired and valuable company in the world.”  Procter & Gamble could, perhaps, articulate such an ambition, given their reach and the nature of their products (consumables of every conceivable kind); but it doesn’t appear valid for a company that is one of dozens of telecom providers in North America.

Three Things that Make a Vision Grip

Three things make for a vision that grips us.  Firstly, true vision inspires.  It imagines a new and much better condition in the future.  It inspires because it aspires.  If the imagined future is not very different from the present, it provides no stretch.  It is more akin to a goal than a vision.  It won’t inspire for long, because it is probably achievable in a short space of time – or too vague to for its achievement to ever be measured.

Too often, a company’s imagined future is self-focused, such as the hubristic company cited above.  A company will never achieve anything without satisfied customers.  Therefore, if a vision doesn’t focus on the customer, it is unlikely to inspire anything but conceit, rather than service mentality that will generate true success.  The best visions imagine a new, better situation for all concerned.

Secondly, true vision compels.  It compels us to act because the change it anticipates is important.  It matters.  And it compels us to act because the change it anticipates is possible.  In other words, it is truthful to the nature of the world and how it works – and specifically, for most organizations, human systems, and how they work.

A vision of substance, one that will stand the test of time, must rest on deeper foundations than creative thinking about how things might look in a few years.  It must rest on conviction about what matters most.  It is the result of saying, “things ought not to be this way”.  Admired furniture company Herman Miller has a vision statement that is supported by a policy statement: “… we believe the future quality of human life is dependent on both economic vitality and a healthy, sustainable natural environment … [Therefore] we have launched ‘Perfect Vision,’ a broad initiative that sets significant sustainability targets for the year 2020”.  In essence they’ve said, “here’s what matters, and here’s how things will look different if we do something about it”.

Herman Miller’s approach reveals how important it is that a company’s vision be rooted in the truth about itself, in its soul: its core motivations, abilities and value contributions.  Such a company imagines how its soul, leveraged with perseverance and creativity, will change things that are into things that could be, for others.

Thirdly, true vision sustains.  It sustains not only because it is important, but because it is important enough to keep working at it, through adversity and challenge, until it is achieved.

When I was very young, it was not possible for me to do more than dream about those eastern valleys.  They were off the beaten track, and although I went far afield even as a little boy, it was always on the beaten track, from village to village, in these wild mountains.  In my teens, however, I did explore those beckoning valleys.  I saw things no outsider had seen before nor, I suspect, since.  We don’t only journey towards our vision: we grow into it.

Another soul insight from

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