Christian Genco

Defining a Vision

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 #

It is more important to know who you are than where you are going, for where you are going will change as the world around you changes.

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:

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.


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.

For example:

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?"


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.


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).


Sources #