It occurred to me today that many vision statements leave people unmoved.
At the same time, we all know of visions statements that were inspiring when they were said — such as “A man on the moon by the end of the decade.”
What was it that made this statement so very inspiring? Was it the clarity? Was it the fact that JFK said it? Was it the fact that it was measurable? Or is it because it was time-based?
I think these are all important, but I also think that there is a reason why a company’s goal of “being number one in it’s industry by 2010″leaves most who are listening stone cold.
It has nothing to do with the words, and everything to do with those who are listening.
Behind JFK’s goal, or Bill Gates’ (a micro-computer on every desktop) is an implicit understanding that the vision would not be realised in the normal course of events.
In other words, it was understood that a man had never walked on the moon before, and that there was not a micro-computer sitting on anyone’s desk at the moment those visions were spoken.
This tension between today’s reality and the vision being stated made it inspiring. If there were no tension between the statement and today’s reality, it would be useless.
Or, if the gap between today’s reality and the vision were not well understood, it would be toothless.
The management of this tension is essentially what management and leadership are all about. Executives do their companies a great disservice when they slip into “how great we already are” talk and start to claim that the vision is already being accomplished, or has already been accomplished. In effect, they destroy what little tension might exist in the listening of their employees.
Keeping this tension alive takes great discipline, and is the key to provoking excellence and extraordinary effort. Without it, employees are unconsciously being encouraged to merely seek the path of least resistance. Mediocre results are the guaranteed outcome.
(Many years ago, I read a book “The Path of Least Resistance” that I can only now understand in hindsight. The author’s name is Robert Fritz.)