The Leaders Notebook

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Is it a Dream or a Vision?

January 23rd, 2012 · No Comments · Follow the Leaders, Great Questions, Organizations at Their Best

It is that time of year again.  The crowds at the gym and walking paths have begun to thin from their Jan 3 crowd levels.  The meetings about new goals and objectives are receding and the day to day work of execution is moving back to center stage.  Airplanes have fewer holiday travelers and more of business travelers as we all go to work on making those visions for the new year realities.  But what of those who are already NOT at the gym?  What about those of us whose good intentions for a new way of living or a new business goal or a major process change are already being reabsorbed into the inertia of how we have always done things?  Often the culprit can be found in the difference between dreams and vision.

I do not want to hate on dreams here.  Dreams are important.  They provide a brief connection to a hoped for future that is usually very different from our current reality- and our current trajectory.  But dreams are fleeting and as soon as we wake up or change focus, current reality asserts itself powerfully, in the form of an overfull inbox, a pipeline report or distribution analysis.  When we promise ourselves a dream without doing the work of turning it into a powerful, sustainable vision, we set ourselves up to be part of the 99% whose resolutions and new business plans are done by February 1.

So instead of writing about resolutions this year, I am offering some ways that a vision is different from a dream.

A Vision is Future Focused – One way we turn our dreams into visions is to focus on what we want, instead of what we do not want.  My colleague and friend David Emerald at the Power of TED talks about this in terms of outcomes.  And one of his most refining questions is “How will I know that I have what I want when I have it?”  The not-so-subtle shift to focusing on how life will be different when I have what I want is a not-so-sneaky way we set ourselves up to earn the rewards.  Whether it is the fact that I will be able to wear my skinny jeans or that my global customer base will demonstrate their renewed loyalty with orders and timely payment- focusing on the recognizable benefits of the outcome helps us remember why we are engaged in the struggle.

A Vision Includes a Game Plan– Whether I am the only person involved in the change, or thousands are impacted and therefor have influence on how things go, one way to distinguish dreams from visions is that visions include a road map for how the new future will be brought into being.  One staple of the offsite retreat is to give a group of people a seemingly impossible task.  The facilitator says clearly what the outcome is and provides all the raw materials, but provides no insight as to how to undertake the task.  Usually, frustration and anger ensue before the evening is out.  The apparent impossibility of the task creates distraction from the design of a solution.  Invariably participants start looking for a trick in the instructions.  In short, they are unwilling to consider that it is possible and therefor are distracted from finding a way to execute.  A vision includes sufficient understanding about how the idea will become real, be integrated into business as usual and overcome the obstacles in the way to create some confidence that it is possible.  Otherwise, the focus of those not fiercely dedicated to the change is on its impossibility.

A Vision has Appropriate Resource – It is easy to think of money here- but money is the easy part.  Resource comes in many forms.  Program and change leaders with sufficient organizational influence to get the cooperation of those who will be impacted is a critical resource.  Endorsement with more than words and budget from the senior-most levels impacted by the change is also critical.  The right match of skills to the challenges that the change team will face- and the ability to change makeup as the challenges change contributes resource.  Perhaps the most frequently overlooked resource is full disclosure about the number of organizational, process or cultural “sacred cows” that will need to be grilled for the company picnic to see the vision become reality.  For this reason, I recommend to clients that projects NOT be formally launched until after the planning phase is complete.  It is easy to be optimistic about making a change real when I have only focused on the dream.  And it is equally easy to kill off a dream on the altar of how difficult (impossible?) it will be to execute.  Having full disclosure on both makes a decision to go forward or not more informed, more credible and more inspiring if the decision is to go.

Here is a very personal example.

I got it in my head last year to do a through hike of the Ouachita Trail this spring (It is 223 miles through Oklahoma and Arkansas wilderness).  The dream was easy.  Thoughts of idyllic days in the woods, enjoying the cool spring weather and solitude in nature made the idea all the more attractive.  I could imagine myself arriving at the eastern trail head that is near my home after the 2 plus weeks being greeted by family and friends and how I would feel knowing that I had accomplished the feat.  it became even more compelling when I thought to do it as a fund raiser for some of the charitable organizations I support.  But the dream took on new meaning when I began to examine the amount of equipment I would need.  And although I have been walking regularly, my first experience with even a lightly weighted pack made the amount of training I would have to do to be in shape for such a trip evident in a way that only sore hips and lower back can.  Planning my calendar so that I can be truly out of touch for that time introduced more challenge.  I have more to do to be certain I truly understand what will be required to make this trip work.  In the end, the desire to make the trip will have to outweigh the expense, pain and change that will be needed in how I live day to day- or I will have to admit that it is just a dream and let it go.

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