Monday, July 17, 2006

Trouble with Your Vision

I was talking to a manager today who was having problems developing a clear vision with her group. The best they could see was that there was little demand for the group beyond the next six months. My typical advice for vision forming is:

  1. Learn all you can by talking to various stake-holders
  2. Take your best guess at a workable direction
  3. Test the vision on various stake-holders
  4. Iterate back to the first step

Notice that there is never the step "Form a perfectly completed vision." Group vision should be an ever evolving process.

Anyway, this approach didn't seem adequate to the short-term problem at hand. They were focused on the metaphorical trees. It was time to step back and look at the forest. My recommendation: think bigger. Instead of trying to find a vision that took the group out to the next year, I recommended that she start by asking, "What do you want the group to look like three years from now?"

This long-term question takes the day-to-day concerns out of the problem. It helps the team focus on bigger questions of success and what the team values. Success creating a long-term vision changes the whole tenor of the short-term problem, turning it into an opportunity.

When Tim O'Reilly saw a downturn in the technical writing market, he set his pool of writers to internal projects with a long-term vision of creating books that could see the company (and a sleepy black lab) through the bumps in future markets. Now O'Reilly is a publishing powerhouse. This vision turned the problem of market dips into an opportunity.

My manager friend should be able to create a long-term vision and sell it to the decision making stake-holders. This lets her team treat downturns in short-term needs as an opportunity to advance the longer-term vision. It lets them see the forest and the trees.

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