Where does vision come from?

Every company is (should be) driven by a vision of what they are, who they are and what […]

Every company is (should be) driven by a vision of what they are, who they are and what is important to being that thing. Typically that vision is shaped at the highest level, by a CEO who either collates or creates that vision, often out of a combination of gut and research.

Start-ups in particular are often born out of a single gut feeling from one person, and that idea is then relentlessly pursued. We have the classic story from the president of Oxo about his arthritic wife, and how that led to a singular vision of tools for people of impaired mobility. And of course, Netflix, born of Reed Hasting’s hatred of late fees.

Later, companies frequently form tightly coherent cultures that hold the vision collectively– think of “the HP way” for instance, or the sometimes cultish Google with their relentless passion for search. Who else would have seen mail as a information retrieval problem?

B2B’s naturally form vision in a different way, designing it to please their customers, either from a massive cash-cow, or from a powerful market. Small design shops have sometimes nearly been ruined by their relationships with one big company that feeds them… and tells them who they are.

Recently I’ve noticed a new way of shaping a vision– a web 2.0 way, if you wish– that many start-ups are embracing. Emergent Vision. At a recent SDForum event, I heard the CEO of SocialText speak about his company– how they launched the technology and let the customers tell them what it was for. This closely echoed words I’d hear at Gel a couple years back form the CEO of Meetup… they put up tools to help people meet not really knowing why people would meet. They didn’t predict the political role they played, but they certainly embraced it.

Smart companies have long adapted their course based on customer research. But I think only now we are seeing more companies launching new technologies not really know what they are for, but trusting that someone will. I did a quick 2×2 to illustrate my thinking.. please feel free to add additional companies or ideas in comments and I will incorporate…



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  1. 1
    David Locke

    Vision? Are you really talking vision, or are you talking mission statement. Vision is a line of business determination that is non-linear to the current strategy. It is meant to pull, while strategy is meant to push. Strategy is yesterday’s vision.

    The warm fuzzy stuff in your graph doesn’t constitute a vision.

  2. 2

    nothing in my graph is supposed to constitute vision, it’s supposed to constitute how vision is formed. Vision for oxo can be easy-to-use appliances, vision for google can be making the world’s information findable. Vision can be letting our customers tell us what we’re good at and good for.

    Mission statements are usually vague and pointless. Guy kawasaki would probably suggest a mantra as a alternative, but I’d suggest that both mantras and mission statements are simply tangible communicable expressions of vision.

  3. 3

    I keep coming back to this post for some reason. It makes my head go around in circles.

    Something that’s interesting is how vision does or doesn’t shift as an organization matures.

    It seems to me that both Social Text’s and Meetup’s initial vision were driven by technology (let’s make this), and they then adopted a vision in line with the effect of that technology after the effect had become clear. Use affected their vision (:-p).

    Vision is definitely not a line of business determination: it’s a line of cultural determination. Business is tangential, at most.

    Along the lines with how (gestalt) vision does or doesn’t shift as an organization matures, I think it’s also interesting how a mass of individual visions coalesces, eddies, ebbs, and pools as the collective vision.

    Vision frames everything, and if attitudinal change is the goal (for organizations or their customers), then framing vision becomes the strategy, expressing vision, pooling collective visions into a gestalt vision, a current. Vision is the mental model.

    Why don’t we add vision to personas?

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