The Power and Importance of Vision

by on September 7, 2012
in book, design, life

An Excerpt taken from, The Value of The Infinite

“All art is the imagination of love” – W.J. Turner

To get to your destination you need three things:
1. A map – to guide you through your journey end-to-end
2. Headlights – to see/predict far enough in advance that you don’t run into something when it gets dark
3. Most importantly, a destination.

Your vision of where you are going is your ultimate destination. it’s not where you are now, but where you see yourself arriving. It’s your ultimate goal, your north star. It’s the thing that keeps you going, when the going gets tough, and with any project worth a damn – it will get tough. It’s also a tool that can be leveraged to elucidate goals/milestones/checkpoints, help manage internal team and external team/partnership agreements, as well as influence project priorities. Without a vision it’s quite simple, you don’t know where you or your project is going. More importantly without knowing where you are headed, how do you know what to do next? Do you turn right, or left?

Carrying the above metaphor through it is very clear how important a vision is. The more specific, tangible, and detailed you can be about where you are headed the better your chances of arriving. In my experiences working within large corporations, and even smaller companies, and startups, this has been one of the most common leadership errors in execution. A lack of a clear vision (or disagreement about a ‘common vision’ but more on this later) for the project and team to rally behind. This is simply a plan without a destination. Without an agreed upon destination your project will just become a series of day-to-day myopic events and deliverables, without an understanding of how the pieces fit together.

Also most importantly, without a vision there is no definition for success and/or failure, which is why I think they are so hard to come by. Folks with high seats in large companies have a vested interest in keeping them, a vision from leadership means accountability to metrics, and results.

Take a minute within your own project or task at hand and ask yourself the following questions:
▪ Why are you doing what you are doing?
▪ What is the most important thing with regard to your project?
▪ Is it clear how the piece you are working on fits into the larger system?
▪ Is the system clearly articulated end-to-end?
▪ What is the priority of what you are doing, relative to the contributions of others?
▪ What is the priority of what you are doing relative to what you could be doing?
▪ Based upon when you started, and how long it’s taken you to get where you are, when will you really arrive?
▪ Do you know if the actual arrival is acceptable?
▪ What do you tell other people, stakeholders, teams is most important about what you are doing?
▪ Do other members of your team, tell other people, stakeholders, and teams the same thing?
▪ Do you and members of your team agree on what’s most important?
▪ When you disagree with members on your team, how do you find common ground?
▪ Once you arrive with what you are currently working on, is it clear what is next?

These questions (among others) serve to clarify whether or not you have a clear agreed upon vision for your project.

So what can you do? Well gather the troops, identify all the important stakeholders, and go through the questions above. Once you’ve got answers to each of them you should be well on your way.

Specifically I like the idea of the concept car. A concept car is typically a radical (typically non-functional) prototype of an automobile to showcase a vision or a direction for the future. They are often used to spark debate, conversation about the future, and monitor public response relative to future investments. They are a vision! General Motors designer Harley Earl is generally credited with inventing the idea as far back as the 1950’s. If GM could do this sixty years ago with analog technology, we’re certainly far more capable of radicalizing vision today. I like concept cars because they are generally non-functional.

They’re simply a very specific, detailed, concrete idea. They force what I call the rubber-band effect, where they stretch organizations and teams to think differently about technological investments, and stretch themselves to innovate to meet or exceed the concept. In my experience within the world of technology, a good vision is about three years beyond what a team is capable of today. While this can be uncomfortable (more on coping with change later…) to introduce to an organization or team, good leadership will recognize the inherent value in such investments, and support such efforts. Without stretching themselves, teams tend to stagnate, falling into predictable patterns exercising the same muscles they already have, rather than training to strengthen and challenge themselves. A concept is an ultimate vision, because it challenges teams to grow.

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2 Responses to “The Power and Importance of Vision”
  1. I’m excited to see this starting! I subscribed to your RSS ages ago and was pleasantly surprised to see these. 🙂

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