4 reasons why your vision statement should be blurry

In the previous post I was kind of hard-nosed about vision statements. Deliberately so. I will not walk it back in this post, but I do want to build on it.

Founders of businesses are necessarily visionaries. They would not have founded the business had they not had vision. But the vision that motivated and inspired may not be all that defined, particularly in the beginning.

Nor does it have to be. You do NOT have to know the end from the beginning before you start. In fact, things seldom turn out just like you plan. Why?

Because no vision, no matter how well it is thought out, defined, and planned, ever survives contact with the real world without alteration. It is always, IT IS ALWAYS subject to unforeseen events and the independent will of others, your competition, the economy, and the powers that be.

Some, citing such odds, seem to favor a no vision approach, but I don’t. It is the inevitable modifications along the way that help determine the nature of the vision. Let’s look again at Lowe’s vision statement:

We will provide customer-valued solutions with the best prices, products, and services to make Lowe’s the first choice for home improvement.”

It speaks of quality and nature; it does not speak of quantity or methodology. This is a valid, useful mission statement because it is deliberately blurry. It avoids locking in processes and procedures because those are strategic and tactical maneuvers that must remain adaptable and necessitate that you must remain flexible.

Lowe’s says that they will provide customer valued solutions but they do not specify what those customer valued solutions are. They say they will offer the best prices but do not even suggest at what discount or percentage variation those prices could or should be when compared to their competitors nor does it specify a sales or pricing policy.  They expect to offer the best products and their focus is home improvement, but that’s a broad spectrum which inevitably changes with time. Go into a Lowe’s store now and you will find a very small supply of wallpaper because wallpaper is not very popular these days. If you visited a Lowe’s a decade or so ago you would have found a very large selection of wallpaper.

The only hint at a quantitative target is their objective to become the first choice for home improvement. Even then, there is wiggle room in the term “first choice.” We assume it means the first choice for everyone everywhere, but Lowe’s does not have stores everywhere. Plus, first choice could mean the first place someone will go to find a home improvement product or service. It does not necessarily imply that they would be the last choice, meaning they can stock everything, will stock everything, or even should stock everything. No, it most likely means they will distinguish themselves as a home improvement retailer with exceptional customer service, innovative retail display space, and quality of products that customers would come to them before checking out anyone else.

The vision is blurry and deliberately so. When you are writing your vision statement, or reviewing one that already exists, I suggest that blurry vision is better. Here’s why:

  1. What you want to happen usually remains more or less constant but how you get there doesn’t! Times change, markets change, people change. Henry Ford got into some difficulty in the 1920’s because he was married to one primary product – the Model T. His competitors became more sophisticated, offering cars with better styling, more options, and competitive pricing. It was only under pressure from family members, trusted associates, Ford dealers and salesmen, and a sagging market share that motivated Henry to develop a new vehicle. Until then the Model T was the Ford Motor Company. But the vision became more blurry, focusing not on a particular definitive vehicle but on a philosophy and personality of business that guides the company even today.
  2. Your vision is not your product. Your product(s) or service(s) are the transport system to get you to the fulfillment of your vision. See #1 above. Too often leaders become fixated on a certain product, method, or service. Vision is much, much larger than that. And it is a good deal more comprehensive.
  3. Blurry vision is not fuzzy thinking. Blurry vision is the result of distance and inexperience. Fuzzy thinking is the result of laziness. Successful and profitable businesses need clear thinking leaders. That compelling vision we’re pursuing demands specific strategies and viable tactics to reach it. We cannot engage in the somehow someway philosophy that divorces the immediate from the ultimate.
  4. We see through a glass darkly but we do see something. Do not get stuck on the vision statement. Do your best and get moving. Things do get clearer. That mountain in the distance lacks detail now but when you get closer you’ll see things better. If you’re a fan of MASH, the TV series, there is an episode where Major Margaret Hoolihan schedules an appointment with an optometrist because her vision is blurry and she fears she will need glasses. Worried about the effects of aging the doctor tries to reassure her saying, “Now even though your eyes are not as good as when you were 18, don’t you see things more clearly now?” Well, you will too. So don’t fret it.

And that is what I will deal with next. See you on Monday.

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