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
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 Druckers words, a future that has already happened! (HBR Sep/Oct 97).
Drucker wasnt talking about organizational visions when he made that statement. He was explaining why he was willing to make predictions about the future now that hes learned that it is impossible to be right ....unless you take what has already started to happen and cant be derailed, and articulate the implications that will emerge with scale.
Remember Ocams 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 Im trying to make about visions is that they must be based on seeds that are already planted and growing. Else they are hallucinations.
Dont 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 youre next-door neighbor got downsized or his company went cash-flow-negative (it never happens to us), a core competency yesterday wasnt 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 youd 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. "Lifes 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 didnt 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 didnt 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."
Shes 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 whos 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 Pedersons chapter six. Thats 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
thats reality as #7).
| ©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
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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