A Shared Vision
The old adage says that a picture is worth a thousand words. And that’s merely one static picture. What if I showed you a scene in a movie? By taking that picture and putting it into motion, it gives you who-knows-how-many new words to describe it.
A scene from The Sound of Music will demonstrate what I mean. There is an iconic, unforgettable scene in which Julie Andrews twirls and sings in an Alpine meadow surrounded by mountains. Wearing a staid, simple black-and-white dress, she appears enraptured by the beauty of nature as she belts out, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” Her playful frolicking evolves into a reverential awe, reflecting her deep spirituality.
If you’ve ever watched the scene, you can probably visualize it shot for shot. You might even find yourself singing along, maybe in a cheesy falsetto.
But if you’ve never seen it, you might imagine something vastly different from the actual scene I just described. And that was a pretty good description.
Even with the paragraph I provided, it is impossible for someone who has not seen the movie to accurately envision the scene the rest of us have in our minds.
This is how vividly you need to think about the vision for your business. It might be crystal clear to you—every shot in the scene, every word in the song—but everyone else is blind and deaf when it comes to the stuff in your head. And a sentence or a paragraph is not going to make them see the light or hear the music.
No one else in your organization knows with any certainty what it is you want to build. At best, they guess. If you want your team to build what you see, you must provide them with the means of understanding it. Otherwise, you will get different ideas of what to build. Everyone will grasp a part, but no one will put it all together. No one will comprehend what you want to build as a whole.
The result? Confusion. Everyone will have a unique, subjective experience, drawing a picture that looks nothing like anyone else’s.
In other words, your workplace is without alignment. No alignment means no growth (or, at best, boring 7% growth per year, rather than the hyper-growth we all want and deserve).
Employees naturally want to perform well and feel good about the work they contribute. They want their company to be a success.
If, as the leader of the organization, you’re not providing your team with the same insight into your vision for the company (so they can help you get the company there!), you’re holding them back.
You are the problem, not them.
When people show up for work, knowing—not guessing—exactly what their chief executive envisions for the company three years out, down to the minor details, they’re aligned. And aligned workers perform better than individuals merely operating in proximity toward a vague goal that might be a month or ten years out, not that it makes any difference either way.
When an employee understands that their actions over the next three years will have an impact, by making even just one of the aims written into the Vivid Vision come to fruition, that person is motivated to make that happen.
Suppose for a moment that five years ago, you and I considered how to build an incredible electric car. We may have used the Prius as our base model and decided to make it drive just a little bit faster. That is, of course, a very practical and viable method of furthering technology.
But that’s not the only way.
Compare that to the Tesla Model S. It’s about as far from a Prius as you can get, yet it’s an electric car, too. When Elon Musk considered building an electric car, he could have chosen the status quo. But instead, he projected a vision into the future of what he wanted, rather than taking the current model and forecasting it forward. A Tesla seats seven people, not because Musk started with a Prius and decided to make it bigger, but because he wanted an insanely fast luxury car also capable of seating his five children.
The point of creating a Vivid Vision is to lean out into the future, to pretend you’re traveling in a time machine to a moment three years ahead. It’s dreaming where you want the company to be in every metric, from personnel to review to location to services, and working backward from there. Most companies do the opposite—they look at where they actually are and make designs based solely on that.
There’s a BHAG (pronounced “bee-hag”) quality to the Vivid Vision. BHAG is a term developed by Jim Collins. In his landmark book, Good to Great, he talked about having Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAG). These goals require you to stretch your imagination to such an extent that people outside of the company probably think you’re crazy. But the people inside your company believe those goals are quite possible—if they share in your Vivid Vision.
Preparing to Write
To begin the process of creating your Vivid Vision, your first job is to free your mind from the day-to-day worries of running your business.
That means leaving the office. Grab a notepad and a pen, and go somewhere inspiring. Outside, for a number of reasons, is an ideal place to allow yourself to dream, to hop into your time machine and lean out into the future.
And no, it won’t work if you shut your office door or go to a conference room to work. You will get distracted if you stay in the building. And you will likely get dragged into mundane tasks.
But when you head to a lake house or a mountain cabin, you’re away from horns and honks of rushing traffic outside the office building and the equally distracting pedestrian traffic inside. You want to leave the trite motivational posters, the ticking clock, the endless cubicles, and the fluorescent lights behind you. Getting away from your office means no telephones ringing, no office machinery humming, no repair technicians banging, no custodians sweeping, and no employees asking you questions. Even if you sit in your backyard enjoying the warmth of the sun, it’s better than writing your Vivid Vision on a plane or from your office.
Make it just you and a notepad, and maybe a meadow or a pond.
A Different Kind of Exercise
Entrepreneurs spend too much time worrying about how something is going to happen. As a result, they lose their ability to dream about something great. In fact, what they lose is the creative process.
When Elon Musk was dreaming about his Tesla Model S, he didn’t care how it happened; those thoughts would have impeded something that did not yet exist.
He only cared that it be a fast, ultra-stylish vehicle that ran on clean energy and fit the size of his family. As long as those criteria were met, he didn’t care how the car was built. Had he worried about the practicalities and listened to the consensus opinions of the time in the beginning, he certainly would have lost his inspiration.
Just like Elon, you want to figure out what the goal is first and then work backward—with a talented team of brilliant pros—to figure out how you’re going to make that happen.
One technique I recommend you use is the Mind Map. This is a visual way to organize information. The idea is to start in the center and work out from there with little branches. So, to visualize something a little more tangible, think about a tree trunk growing in the Earth’s inner core with its branches stretching out and into the sky; each of those branches contain twigs, which extend farther out. The Mind Map works in a similar way: a core that branches out into smaller components.
You’re going to roll this vision of yours out for the world to see, so be bold when you do.
When others read your Vivid Vision, they need to experience a moment of awe and wonder. If their jaws don’t drop a little bit, you need to think bigger. Small, safe, calculated plans don’t inspire.
Imagine the room when Elon Musk announced that he wanted his Tesla Model S to go from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds on something called “ludicrous mode.” People thought, “Dude, you’re crazy.”
Get outside of your comfort zone. Get a little bit nervous. If you don’t have butterflies, no one else will. And you really want others to share in your enthusiasm. Ultimately, that’s why you’re crafting this document in the first place, not just secretly feeling warm and fuzzy from your vision board that no one else understands.
During the rollout, it’s important to inform people that some points in the document will happen sooner than others. It will take three years to realize other points. And those other points may require things like technologies that will be invented, upgraded, or made affordable along the way and that in this moment don’t exist. It’s a stackable vision in that sense, building from foundation to floor to walls, and upward, just like the dream home.
If you forget to remind people that getting three years into the future necessitates first getting one year and then two years into it, they will likely overlook that obviousness and assume you’re just nuts. It’s a little bit like telling a thirteen-year-old what it’s going to be like when they turn sixteen. They can’t visualize what being a sixteen-year-old will feel or look like, since it’s too far away from their current world, and the changes they will undergo are too enormous to understand.
Now that everyone within the organization fully understands and is rallying behind the Vivid Vision, it’s time to share it with the rest of the world. The external rollout helps everyone understand the organization’s direction. It tells them why that’s exciting, and why they should base their perspective of the company on that point, three years from now, rather than today.
Just as with the internal rollout among your team, it’s critical to ease the minds of people who may think the idea sounds crazy. Reassure them that some concepts are still a year or two away, and that once those things are in place, the final components will not seem so far-fetched.
Introduce the Vivid Vision to them by saying, “This is what our company is going to look like in the near future. We all recognize it doesn’t look like this today, but this is us leaning out three years ahead, describing what it looks, acts, and feels like.”
You’ll want the rollout of your Vivid Vision to happen simultaneously with everyone. This is done with email blasts, a post on the company website, newsletters, press conferences, journalist pitches, flyers, bullhorns, stopping people on the street—OK, there might be a limit to how far you go to get the message out, but definitely err on the side of too much information, rather than not enough.
The key is to continually send it to people so that everybody can see what you’re building, where you’re going, and what it looks like. What ends up happening is these outside parties play a role in your vision, as they contribute and conspire to make it come true.
There is no point in making plans for the future if you don’t know what the future looks like. And because you want others to include you in their future plans, it’s imperative that you always try to remind people of what that future looks like. It’s just like orienting yourself in the wilderness—it’s crucial to keep looking at the map to check your current location and to look at the way you intend to go.
The same is true of the Vivid Vision: It’s a map of the future.
How do I even get started on something so massive and so distant?
During all of these moments, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, weighted down by a discouraging sense that there’s just too much to accomplish and not enough time.
No matter which source of dread you experience, the solution is the same: take it one small step at a time. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
See your grand ambition not so much as a single entity but as dozens of smaller entities linked together to form something singular.
Realize that every sentence in your Vivid Vision is a goal in and of itself. And to bring about each sentence, a certain number of projects will need to be performed in a certain order. Looking at one individual project is certainly much less daunting than accomplishing the goal of the whole sentence, and far, far less intimidating than the entirety of your three-year vision.
By breaking down your goals into bite-sized pieces, you will be able to overcome each obstacle as it arises and finalize each necessary project along the journey.
Recall the home that we’re building. You begin with the foundation and build upward from there. There is groundwork that must be laid if you’re going to accomplish your BHAG, and the projects that behave as that foundation are your starting point.
Begin by looking at the initiatives tied to one of these three main areas: core purpose, core values, or BHAG. Make sure your team understands and really feels these initiatives.
Next, look to your human resources to ensure that the human element of your operation is aligned and running smoothly. You need every system related to people-training, onboarding, recruiting, interviewing, selecting and hiring talent, keeping people happy, and eliminating bad apples to work well.
Next, you want to ensure that strategic thinking systems are working, and that all meetings are being run productively and efficiently.
Maintaining the Vision
The Vivid Vision is a tool, like a shovel. And just as a shovel can’t dig a hole unless you pick it up and use it, the Vivid Vision, likewise, has to be used to be effective. You can’t just write it, throw it in a drawer, and hope that your Vivid Vision becomes a reality.
Part of using the Vivid Vision means revisiting it again and again.
When people see tangible progress being made, it sparks a wave of encouragement throughout the organization. Just as the “Can You Imagine” wall allows employees to see goals being accomplished, when you mark up the Vivid Vision, noting which goals have been met and which projects are currently in progress, the document becomes a visual barometer of progress.
I recommend revisiting the Vivid Vision every quarter as an organization. And when you read through the document, highlight in green each item that’s been achieved, and then highlight in yellow the items currently in progress. You’ll find that every few months, the document becomes more colorful and more alive, as you note every passing milestone.
As you mark off completed tasks, you’ll move on to assign new ones as the long three-year process slowly reveals itself to you. That, too, is a source of inspiration. Employees appreciate challenges, particularly challenges that have a visible purpose.
Your Personal Journey
As humans, we hold the past and the future in our thoughts even as we live in the present. Each informs our decisions and guides our actions. Now that you’ve transported three years into the future and looked at every aspect of your business, what about the other dimensions of your life?
Is it possible to lean out into the future and examine your personal life?
The answer is yes.
As humans, we don’t really think about what we want our lives to look like down the road. Instead, we tend to take it as it comes, reacting, rather than being proactive. The purpose of the personal Vivid Vision, and the sharing and rereading of it with family and friends, is to live a more conscious life.
Living consciously allows us to perceive time more acutely by setting large goals and achieving them one action at a time, each day. We imbue our lives with greater meaning when our decisions are not just frivolous coin flips, but rather, well-strategized play calls.
You can create a personal Vivid Vision. You can even create one for your family.
Once again, you want to describe everything you see as you look around—only now you’re looking around your home, rather than your office. And once again, this is not the time to think about how you will get there, only that you will get there. Aim high. You know you’re going to work hard to accomplish what you set out to do, so why not make it a worthy cause?