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The Real Value (and Dual Nature) of Visions

In business, the Vision Statement is the future state a leader is trying to achieve.

Ranging from “Ending poverty by 2025” to “Creating a T-Shirt that doesn’t shrink when washed”, the vision statement of a business has become this almost holy part of the company’s operating system. It is typically the work of the founder to define, refine and evolve the vision statement, and repeat it ad nauseam to their crew.

The point of this, pundits argue, is that having a clear vision statement helps get everyone pulling in the same direction. Alignment is the name of the game, and the vision is often the top-level tool to achieve it.

Some definitions also acknowledge the emotional nature of the vision statement. From Wikipedia:

As a result, a vision - to have vision - means to imagine a world that does not yet exist and intends to inspire people to make it a reality.

Now, all endeavours are hard work. And we only go through hard work when we feel compelled to, inspired to. There is “motion” in “emotion”, and so, more than aligning people, the most important role of a vision is to provide the emotional drive we need to relentlessly go after that goal despite the odds, the hurdles, the uncertainty.

It is naive to think that a statement like “Ending poverty by 2025” is enough to provide that emotional drive. A founder needs to see themselves in that vision. To them, the vision probably reads more like “Ending poverty by 2025 (with me on the cover of Time Magazine as the person who did it!)”. I call this the internal vision. It’s what this individual needs to get out of bed in the morning when things are tough.

Obviously, it’s hard for a founder to get people to come along for the journey if she tells them that the goal is to get her on the cover of Time Magazine. So she needs to communicate a slightly less personal vision, like “Ending poverty by 2025”. Within this vision, a PR manager can turn this external vision into their own internal vision: “Ending poverty by 2025 (and I was the one making sure we got the attention we needed to achieve this)”.

So a leader is motivated by their internal vision, which is about them, then turn this into an external vision which they can use to inspire others to come along because it allows them to derive their own internal vision from it.

Thus, there are always two sides to a vision, which is where its true value comes from: To be a contagious emotional driver that makes us do extraordinary things.

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