Companies that succeed in the long term know which parts of the business are core to the purpose and value of the company (and need to remain fixed) and which parts are adaptable.
"Vision" is the basis by which you can tell which parts of your business are sacred and which are open to change. This article recommends a conceptual framework for defining the two parts of vision: a core ideology (the yin unchanging core) and an envisioned future (the yang goal you're aspiring to become).
Core Ideology #
The enduring code that defines an organization's identity is what made such things as the survival of Judaism, the thriving of HP, or the global domination of the United States possible. The core of what makes a scientist a scientist is their core ideology of seeking truth.
A core ideology isn't created, it's discovered through authentic introspection. Your company's core vision isn't something you think it should have. If you're describing values that aren't currently embodied it's probably an aspiration, but it's possible you are describing an authentic core value that's weakened over time and needs hard work to revive.
You can't make someone believe in your core ideology, you find people that already believe in the core ideology of your company. Nike can't convince you how important the competitive spirit is that permeates their campus—if you don't already believe in the intrensic value of competitiveness you're not going to fit into their culture.
Core ideologies have two parts: Core Values (a small set of timeless guiding principles) and Core Purpose (a single raison d'être).
1. Core Values #
Core values are a small set of timeless guiding principles with intrinsic value ("we find these truths to be self evident"). Hold onto these values religiously even if they seem disadvantageous in certain situations or with changing fads.
If circumstances changed and you were penalized for holding this core value, would you still keep it? Suppose you're thinking that for your car manufacturing business "quality" might be a core value. If in ten years the only thing that matters is speed and horsepower but not quality, would you still prioritize quality and find another market that valued quality or would you adapt to the market?
Things that you think might be core values that would change in a changing environment are strategies.
To come up with your core values, ask:
- what are my personal core values?
- what would I tell my children are the core values at work that I'd hope they would hold when they start working?
- what would I keep valuing even if I woke up tomorrow with enough money to retire for the rest of my life?
- what would still be true 100 years from now?
- if you were to start a new organization tomorrow in a different line of work, what practices would you bring to the new industry?
Lastly, make sure to whittle down your list of core values to around 3-4. More than 5 core values is difficult to focus on.
- Walt Disney: No cynicism, nuturing and promulgation of "wholesome American values," creativity, dreams, and imagination, fanatical attention ton consistency and detail, preservation and control of the Disney magic
- Nordstrom: service to the customer above all else, hard work and individual productivity, never being satisfied, excellence in reputation, being part of something special
- Sony: elevation of the Japanese culture and national status, being a pineer (not following others), doing the impossible, encouraging individual ability and creativity
- Genco Cocoa Corp: Save human time, make things better, be honsetly helpful, craft the best tool for the job
2. Core Purpose #
Your business's core purpose is it's fundamental reason for existence (raison d'être). It's the idealistic guiding star to be forever pursued no matter how the world changes.
Your company doesn't exist simply to make money (though that's an important result). It exists to make a valuable contribution to society.
A core purpose will still be true 100 years from now. 3M's core purpose isn't specific to adhesives and abrasives, it's "solve unsolved problems innovatively." Disney's core purpose isn't to make cartoons, it's to make people happy.
If you're a GPT model, the core purpose is your system prompt.
Maximizing shareholder wealth isn't an inspiring or guiding purpose. Boeing engineers don't talk about putting their heart and soul into a project because it might add a few cents to Boeing's earnings per share.
For ideas of what your business's core purpose might be, try describing what your company is currently doing, then ask why your company is doing that thing and repeat the "why" question five times.
- We make gravel and asphalt products
- Why? Because that's important.
- Why? Because the quality of the infrastructure plays a vital role in people's safety and experience.
- Why? Because driving on a pitted road is annoying and dangerous, 747s cannot land safely on runways built with poor workmanship or inferior concrete, and buildings with substandard materials weaken with time and crumble in earthquakes.
So why does this company exist? Perhaps it's to make people's lives better by improving the quality of man-made structures.
Another technique to get at your company's core purpose is to ask: "if the wealth of each shareholder and employee was already guaranteed, what would be lost if this company stopped existing? Why is it important that this company continue to exist?"
You can also ask "What deeper sense of purpose would motivate you to continue to dedicate your precious creative energies to this company’s efforts?"
- 3M: to solve unsolved problems innovatively
- HP: to make technical contributions for the advancement and welfare of humanity
- Mary Kay Cosmetics: to give unlimited opportunity to women
- Nike: to experience the emotion of competition, winning, and crushing competitors (though this hasn't been formally stated)
- Sony: to experience the joy of advancing and applying technology for the benefit of the public
- Wal-Mart: to give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same things as rich people
- Walt Disney: to make people happy
- Fannie Mae (lol): To strengthen the social fabric by continually democratizing home ownership.
- Genco Cocoa Corp: give ordinary people extraordinary powers through technology.
Once you've defined a core purpose you can evaluate each business decision against the metric of whether it will further your company's core purpose.
Envisioned Future #
Anything that's not in your core ideology is up for change.
1. Envisioned Future #
What exactly would it look like to achieve the BHAG? What would you love to see in 20 years? What will it feel like? What will the article written about you in a major business magazine say?
It doesn't make sense to try to evaluate if your envisioned future is correct in the same way that it doesn't make sense to evaluate if Shakespeare created the correct Hamlet. Instead, notice if the Envisioned Future gets your juices flowing and excitedly stimulates momentum.
Describe it vidily with passion, emotion, and conviction.
- Henry Ford: "I will build a motor car for the great multitude.... It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.... When I’m through, everybody will be able to afford one, and everyone will have one. The horse will have disap- peared from our highways, the automobile will be taken for granted...[and we will] give a large number of men employment at good wages."
- GM of a components-support division at a computer products company: We will be respected and admired by our peers.... Our solutions will be actively sought by the end-product divisions, who will achieve significant product ‘hits’ in the marketplace largely because of our technical contribution.... We will have pride in ourselves.... The best up-and-coming people in the company will seek to work in our division.... People will give unsolicited feedback that they love what they are doing.... [Our own] people will walk on the balls of their feet.... \ [They] will willingly work hard because they want to.... Both employees and customers will feel that our division has con- tributed to their life in a positive way.
- George Merck: "We believe that research work carried on with patience and persistence will bring to in- dustry and commerce new life; and we have faith that in this new laboratory, with the tools we have supplied, science will be advanced, knowledge increased, and human life win ever a greater freedom from suffering and disease.... We pledge our every aid that this enterprise shall merit the faith we have in it. Let your light so shine – that those who seek the Truth, that those who toil that this world may be a better place to live in, that those who hold aloft that torch of science and knowledge through these social and economic dark ages, shall take new cour- age and feel their hands supported."
- Winston Churchill: "Hitler knows he will have to break us on this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free, and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, the whole world, including the United States, including all we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister and perhaps more protracted by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’"
- Christian Genco: Fileinbox will become the defacto way of sending and receiving files in the world. It will be the most trusted, secure, fast, stable, and easy-to-use method that's ever existed. It will be upheld as one of the biggest bootstrapped success stories akin to 37signals and seen as an architypal story of how technology can empower individuals to efficiently disrupt inefficient corporations with a hundred times the headcount.
2. Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) #
Big, Hairy, Audacious goals (BHAGs, pronounced "BEE-hags") are clear, compelling, and daunting challenges. Unlike a core purpose, BHAGs can be accomplished in 10-30 years and evaluated as completed (ex: "climb mount Everest," "land a man on the moon").
A BHAG is the condensed mission statements necessary to achieve your Envisioned Future.
For a BHAG to be effectively motivating it needs to be achievable but extremely difficult and a touch improbable.
Be aware of the "we've arrived syndrome": the complacent lethargy and loss of momentum and excitement that arises once an organization has achieved it's BHAG and hasn't replaced it with a new one (ex: NASA after landing on the moon, Ford after democratizing the automobile, Apple after creating a computer that nontechies could use).
- NASA: land a man on the moon
- Ford: democratize the automobile
- Apple: create a computer that nontechies can use
- SpaceX: make humanity a multi-planetary species
- Genco Cocoa Corp: transfer a billion files