Vision or purpose?

It is time for a major rethink of the process used by organizations to create their vision. This process is quite well established, in part through influential books like Jim Collins’ Good to Great. In fact, helping organizations define their vision has been a large part of my work as a futurist. So what’s wrong with vision?

A vision essentially projects an organization’s core values out in time to define a desired future state. This vision then guides the organization’s strategy development, so that the strategies it comes up with should – if implemented properly – create the desired future state.

The problem with this is two-fold:

  • First, this kind of vision is a projection of the organization’s identity (ego) on to the future. As spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “Seeking a result is the continuation of self-projection; result, however lofty, is the projection of desire.”
  • Second, a vision defines a desired future state based on what is known today. Thus, a vision may actually work against an organization if over time it limits strategic action to that which could have been anticipated in the past.

So what’s an organization to do? Actually, Jim Collins’ framework from Good to Great is a great tool, up until the point where it places a vision in chronological time – e.g., by linking goals and desired end-states to target dates. The first two parts of Collins’ framework have an organization define their core values and then state their purpose. I suggest that organizations stop there, and then develop the practices by which they will live this purpose day-in, day-out.

This approach is consistent with Frederic Laloux’s concept of an “evolutionary purpose” by which 21st century organizations will be guided. While authentic at any moment in time, this purpose is always subject to change depending on what the world needs most from the organization at that very moment.

By linking its vision to a far-off future date, an organization allows itself to believe that it only needs to engage in a deep, vision-level conversation from time to time. In fact, they should be having this conversation on a routine and consistent basis. While vision is a goal you have plenty of time to achieve, purpose is what gets you out of bed everyday; it is a calling that grabs you by the back of the neck and compels you to act right now. Organizations for whom every conversation is a conversation about manifesting purpose will create more meaning for their members and for the world around them.

Post navigation