A three step approach to create a sound vision.
Vision is like a tractor beam from the future. A well-crafted vision is appealing. It’s able to propel an entire organization, its customers, investors. However, what impact does a vision have when you are surrounded by uncertainties and turbulence?
“Mind your step” is the early warning signal that prevents you, the pedestrian, for stumbling at the end of an escalator. The abrupt stop ahead triggers your attention and sharpens your vision. You look ahead. Prepare. And just in time you anticipate to step on the changed pavement underneath your feet. Well done.
In business, your “escalator” is the relevant strategic context. When this context changes, you need to adapt. Your current strategy becomes invalid. It’s time to look ahead again. It’s time to gain a new vision. It seems like a clear and logical process. However, it is one of the toughest challenges leaders face. Their current status and position is a reflection of the past. A reflection that has no future validity as their relevant context is redefined and has changed fundamentally. The rearview mirror, in terms of core beliefs, key assumptions, and dominant philosophy, has become a misleading path to the future.
In times of change, the challenge for executives is to gain a renewed and deep understanding of context. It demands a mindset without preconceived notions or predetermined goals; a tabula rasa. You can’t rely on the past. You need a clean slate. You need to identify and rethink your core assumptions. What starts with blurred peculiar signals, evolves into fundamental doubts about key certainties your firm relies upon.
Three Phases Towards a New Vision
I. It all starts with expanding your insights from the informed future: horizon scanning. Horizon scanning is the root of foresight. It provides a solid forward-driven overview of what we know will be next. Whereas trend watchers detect and highlight interesting developments, horizon scanning has a more contextual character. It’s about the dynamics unfolding the future. Horizon scanning determines what is constant, what changes, and what constantly changes. It explores novel and unexpected issues as well as persistent problems and trends, including matters at the margins of current thinking that challenge past assumptions.
II. Next, In order to understand what’s coming and what’s changing, it helps to involve “edge people.” Edge people are the insiders and outsiders that think ahead. They have a different, sometimes radical perspective and opinion on business and society as a whole. They are the innovators, or the skeptics. The explorers. The integral, systemic, and emergent thinkers. They challenge. They might be stubborn. They create an itch in the skull. And your first intention is probably to avoid them. But hey, you might as well embrace the effective mind stretching contribution of edge people.
III. The third step is about contextual sensitivity: will one vision do?
A comprehensive vision energizes and directs your audience. However, launching this one and only vision might turn out to be counterproductive. When horizon scanning and sense making resulted in the identification of fundamental uncertainties, your firm needs to remain agile, flexible, and very responsive. Adopting only one appealing specific vision may blindsight your firm. When, in time, your preferred future, your new vision, turns out to be untrue, you need to be able to adjust. The stronger and more appealing your communicated vision, the harder it becomes for you and your colleagues to see, and believe, the other reality unfolding.
Therefore, my advice is two-fold: First, when uncertainties rule, have an appealing but global vision rather than a specific one. Second, monitor your market frequently. Design an early warning system that is triggered when impactful uncertainties point into another direction of your current strategy.
Again, it’s all about ‘the escalator’ triggering your attention: