Developing Effective Vision and Mission
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Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

In a recent essay we painted a vision of a time when most people are natural and self-motivated life-long learners. Some of those at the forefront of educational reform have criticized this vision as no big deal, already here; and point to places where elements of the vision can be witnessed today. The point they miss is that our vision is of a set of pervasive practices so integrated into the fabric of human existence that the very nature of human social interaction is altered on a global scale forever - our vision is not about a practice in isolation, or of a vanguard experiment, or even of a way of life embraced by a small percentage of the population.
   What makes a vision effective?
   Visions are the things that good organizations are supposed to have - a compelling attractor that channels all effort toward the same future. I use the word attractor here with intent. In the realm of chaos theory and complex adaptive systems (organizations are such, so is human society) an attractor is something that exerts a pulling force, sort of like a gravity well in cosmology.
   An effective vision has this pulling force working for it. It is not simply an organizational goal, nor is it a charismatic wish or a righteous picture of an idealistic outcome - it is a gravity well that sucks everything close into it - like it or not.
   Organizations that pursue a vision have vision-based missions. The effective ones first see a future that is virtually inevitable, and they then adopt a mission to participate in that future. Echoes of Wayne Gretsky explaining his excellence: "I skate to where the puck is going to be."
   Effective visions are not based on luck. They are not pie-in-the-sky predictions that just coincidentally turn out to be what actually happens. They are, in Peter Drucker’s words, a future that has already happened! (HBR Sep/Oct 97).
   Drucker wasn’t talking about organizational visions when he made that statement. He was explaining why he was willing to make predictions about the future now that he’s learned that it is impossible to be right ....unless you take what has already started to happen and can’t be derailed, and articulate the implications that will emerge with scale.
   Remember Ocam’s razor: given two ways to explain something, the simpler of the two is more likely to be the truth. For visions: the simpler is more likely to occur. For missions and strategies: the simpler is more likely to succeed.
   In 1991 we were instrumental in painting the vision of the agile enterprise. The concept quickly developed a life of its own and has swept the world in various and personal interpretations. But the key to its success was the irrefutability of the vision: things are changing faster than our organizations can follow - and competition will focus on dealing with a pace of change much faster than we are currently prepared for. Four vision scenarios were written about life in four different industrial settings - and how it was different. People read these visions and found them believable - precisely because they did not invoke a world with anti-gravity or cold fusion (we had no hint in 1991), but rather accentuated what was already starting to happen in successful response to the juggernaut of accelerating change - and - pointed to successful examples to help the more skeptical. Sure, the unexpected cold fusion may well mature into a major impact on modes of competition in all industries - not to mention antigravity or cloning - but such things in a 1991 vision statement would not gain many followers as they had no credibility base then. More importantly, they are simply a few details in the encompassing concept of coping with major and faster changes.
   The point I’m trying to make about visions is that they must be based on seeds that are already planted and growing. Else they are hallucinations.
   Don’t clutter up a vision with too many implications, too many will be wrong - find the unifying theme and focus on it. Keep it simple. But paint a vivid picture.
   A vision is powerful precisely because it has a credible foundation. Because people can believe that it can actually occur. Of course, believing in an outcome and helping that outcome to occur are two different things. Beyond vision there is mission: helping the vision to come true. And behind mission is a mission fulfillment strategy.
   Lets get back to basics: knowledge is changing faster than ever and faster than we as people and we as organizations know how to cope with. Whether you’re next-door neighbor got downsized or his company went cash-flow-negative (it never happens to us), a core competency yesterday wasn’t sufficient for today.
   If your mission was to create a learning environment in your small circle of influence how would you do it? If you had your druthers you’d simply get the president to mandate the transformation and brook no slackers. But that is rarely the situation any of us are blessed with. You need support from the top, and you need commitment from the bottom. Those who demand commitment from the top are seeking the easy but rarely enjoyed path.
   Barbara Pederson was an Indiana elementary school teacher with a vision. "Life’s journey is one grand learning experience...We are all different in what we become during our lifetimes - unique individuals. What makes us the same is that we all process information through our brain, the organ for learning. As a teacher I became interested very early in how several students could be given the same information and yet each would perceive it differently...understanding how the brain ‘learns’ and adapting teaching techniques to the biology of learning are essential tools to meet the challenge."
As a teacher she acted upon her vision. She studied the new knowledge about brain-based learning and employed it in her classroom. And she was noticeably successful in making learners of all her students.
   Pederson didn’t demand a commitment from the top to get started, only support. "We knew we could make a difference in our own classrooms, but if we were going to change the school, we would need the collaboration of everyone on the staff. Collaboration didn’t mean that we would all do the same thing at the same time.....It meant that we would have a personal vision about what our classroom could be."
   She’s no longer an elementary school teacher. Her success gained attention and Pederson now directs the CLASS (Connecting Learning Assures Successful Students) project for the state of Indiana. Starting with five schools in 1990 this brain-based CLASS project now involves 250 schools. You think your industrial organization is hard to change? Try to change an educational institution.

An effective vision ... is a gravity well that sucks every-thing close into it - like it or not.


   It helps to have an idea who’s time has come (mission fulfillment requirement #1). Want a model? Read Transformations: Leadership For Brain-Compatible Learning, edited by Jane Rasp McGeehan (www.books4educ.com). And pay attention to Barbara Pederson’s chapter six. That’s what you can do when you have value understanding and support from the top (requirement #2). We also need a scientific underpinning to explain why we believe and pursue what we believe and pursue (a knowledge base is requirement #3). And we need grass-roots involvement (#4). Also, we need a roadmap (#5), examples of success (#6) and recipes for people to follow (too bad - but that’s reality as #7).
   An idea who’s time has come is not a product of smoke and mirrors, nor idealism, nor do-gooder ideas, nor righteousness. It is an idea that cannot be derailed because natural forces will make it so. Which raises the question: If the vision is inevitable, what need is there for an organizational mission?
   Two things to say about this. First: having such a vision shows an organization where it needs to be in order to leverage the eventual reality to advantage. There is work to do in order to get there. This is mission. Second: The accuracy of a vision depends on fuzziness. Predicting the future is impossible with any detail. Thus, the vision is couched in generalities that leave a lot to be determined in the details. Determining the details is mission. You can shape the future even when the general outcome is inevitable. You may even affect when that future emerges - hastening its arrival by aligning conscious force with natural force. And most importantly, you can bind the fuzzy details in your image if you are there first.
   In the explosive emergence and ubiquitous adoption of the personal computer a dominant common operating system was an inevitable future. Ordinary people, making up the majority of PC users, could never cope with a fragmented PC environment on a large scale. If you can’t ask your neighbor at the next desk or in the next house for help in understanding this frustrating technology you won’t be a user. Did Bill Gates understand this or was he just in the right place at the right time?
   Nobody believes that Microsoft Windows is the optimal operating system for this dominant common platform - yet there it is. It got there first. Microsoft harnessed and led the natural forces. Windows does a sufficient job in that position to be unassailable (for a while). The point: you can shape the details of an inevitable future if your vision understands the inevitability and your mission and mission realization strategy take advantage of that knowledge.
   Just so we don’t leave the Microsoft issue dangling... their dominance is for this period of technology introduction. As human-technology interfaces mature the requirements for widely usable operating systems will change. For one instance - when you can tell your computer in natural language what you want it to accomplish you will no longer need to know a lot of details that are necessary today. There will be new futures and new visions and new people who skate to where the puck is going to be.
   So what does all this mean to you in your work environment? For one, it means you don’t have to wait for the grand plan from the sky - you can really affect the environment you work in and your position in it. Start by looking at what’s happening to the knowledge base you and your company are dependent upon. Recognize the ways in which it is changing, and the speed and frequency of those changes. Are you a sufficient learner to keep up? Is your company?
   Develop your own vision of you and your work environment and your company - staying on top of the knowledge explosion. Dealing with the implications of the Internet and personal computers - and those kids coming up who think it’s just normal. And realize that learning does not have to be as hard as it used to be - there is useful knowledge about how people learn things effectively - and we all do it differently.


1998 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #045 - Originally Published 9/98 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications

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From Rdgarson@aol.com   (R.Garson ), Date Wed, 11 Oct 2000
I recently downloaded your most interesting article "Developing Effective Vision and Mission". I was wondering if you had any information to help me answer the following question: "Corporate Strategy is similar to War. Discuss?". Best Regards, R.Garson

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From dove@parshift.com (Rick Dove), Date Sat, 14 Oct 2000
This subject was the focus of many books in the late 80's when Japan was doing well - especially ones that compared business strategy to the Oriental martial arts and arts of war. It is out of favor now in the West as a business metaphor, but likely to come back some day. A more recent Western management interest is on the values of looking at business as an alliance strategy. Both have their study values - but in the end business is business, strategy is strategy, and war is war. A higher percentage of Asian businessmen relate well to business as war - it's part of their cultural view point.

You might study Oracle's Larry Ellison or Sun's Scott McNealy for practitioners of the Western ego-driven war perspective. But if you're interested in strategy, you would do well to study Michael Porter for the perspective of strategic differentiation delivering customer value.

The war metaphor implies a kill-the-competition focus, rather than a satisfy-a-customer focus. What does the winner do if he succeeds in killing of the competition? We saw that back in the JP Morgan days that led to antitrust legislature - the winner rapes and pillages and reaps the spoils of war.

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From sjancich@crown.icongrp.com   (Shannon Jancich) Date Sat, 25 Nov 2000
I've attended three workshops featuring Barbara Pederson and on all three occasions have gone away with a sense of renewal and hope for the future. I can't even begin to explain the dramatic impact she has had on me both as a person and as a teacher.

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