From early cave paintings to the Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Times Square, the aqueduct to the theory of relativity to jazz, the stock market to internet trading, email to eBay and the smartphone, AI, blockchain, the Internet of Things and far, far beyond, human beings have always advanced ideas and technologies beyond the known, pushing the boundaries of what is.
We have always found ways to create beyond that border of certainty: the unknown.
But what makes for huge advances in the way we do things, relate to each other or understand our world? What drives the development of ourselves, our organizations and our families?
It’s vision: the ability to see or imagine beyond the boundaries of the known.
Quite literally, our sense of vision allows us to see where we are going. And for leaders, organizations and individuals, that’s huge to remember.
Vision is the seed for future potential. It’s the beginning of invention. It’s the starting point for achieving the impossible (which is always impossible, until it's not). It’s fresh. It’s exciting. It’s bold. It’s about what might become. It’s the why, the what if, the wouldn’t it be nice if. It’s creative, it’s future, it’s untainted. It feels free. It hasn’t yet failed. It ensures that what we already know isn’t our only experience. It beckons new possibilities, new outcomes, even new ways to learn and have fun and add value to our world.
Vision can be life-changing. And yet, in boardrooms, at kitchen tables and in our community, the act of visioning is a surprisingly infrequent activity. Why is that?
1. We are afraid. We doubt we can achieve our vision. Will defining it then hold us to an impossible standard? What if we fail? Embarrassment could be an outcome. Is it worthwhile to poke at things we aren’t sure we can achieve? Or might some important or influential people disagree with the vision we come up with? Then what? What if we are too bold? I've seen both nonprofits and individuals suffer from this fear.
2. We don’t believe we deserve it. We have achieved just enough success to believe we’ve been lucky and things have gone well so far. But at a certain point, that will break down, when “they” figure out that we don’t actually always know all the answers. Eventually, “they” will see we have been successful and then call us out when they realize we’ve just been really lucky. That will be the end of everything. (This is called impostor syndrome and it’s survivable - common among startup organizations and leaders across the board).
3. Success feels limited. It’s better to stick to what we know than get involved in wanting something beyond our station, our role, our current situation, what we know. Don’t tempt fate, because we might not win. (This is called the scarcity mindset, and it’s the vampire kiss of truly envisioning success. Nonprofits and their boards often suffer this type of thinking, as do individuals).
4. The act of visioning means uncertainty, and uncertainty is uncomfortable. This means we are not only entertaining uncertainty, but also plunging into it. Uncertainty can feel vulnerable, scary and very uncomfortable. Many times, it’s easier to follow a path we know, a path that feels more sure, more reliable than a new one. Besides, other people are relying on us: our organizations or our families. We have a responsibility to lead and succeed, and tackling the uncertain feels like unnecessary risk. And as prudent leaders and managers and individuals, why would we take unnecessary risk?
We can allow these Four Horseman of Disallowing (fear, lack of worthiness, scarcity and vulnerability) to daze and paralyze us into complacency, boredom or apathy.
Or we can envision a new outcome, a new possibility.
Does this feel risky? Terrifying? Exciting? Delicious? Empowering?
What about another new possibility? And another? And so on.
Try it for 10 minutes. Only you can limit you and your ideas.
Then, what would happen if you did this again tomorrow, if you made a practice of visioning? What would your regular vision practice entail?
Be bold, stretch your imagination beyond what you know. What sets your heart on fire? What audacious, incredible advancement will you bring into being as a result?