Episode: 4 Strategic Benefits of Having a Vision
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. Today we’re going to be talking about something every leader needs but a surprising number of leaders don’t value: vision.
Megan: This is one of those things that is often at the bottom of a leader’s to-do list, because daily operations can feel like they take up all the time. That’s where the urgency is, that’s where the fires are, and vision seems far out, something I don’t need to worry about right now. Consequently, leaders will just downplay the need for it or maybe they’re confused by how to create it. This can feel mystifying. It can feel confusing and hard, but it’s very difficult to successfully run and lead a business into the future unless you have vision.
Michael: It’s true. A lot of leaders look at this and think it’s optional, and that’s true. It is optional. It’s only essential if you want to be effective. If you want to be effective as a leader, you have to be visionary. We’re going to talk about some of that in this session and talk to you about four strategic benefits of having a clear vision for the future, but before we do that, we have to bring Larry on the scene here. Hey, Larry.
Larry Wilson: Hey, hey. How are you guys doing?
Michael: Good. Excited about talking about this topic.
Larry: Yeah, because you actually have written a book about vision, Michael, that’s coming out in March.
Michael: I have, and I feel like this may be (I probably say this on every book) my most important book ever, because vision is so critically important. It is the difference-maker on effective leadership.
Larry: To get us started, how do you define vision? What is it?
Michael: Well, here’s how I define it. Vision is an act of seeing what the future could be and then articulating that potential in an inspiring, clear, practical, and attractive way. I call that a vision script in my book The Vision-Driven Leader, and I want to give you a picture of what it looks like. One of my very favorite stories is a story that happened back in the 1960s.
Space was seen as the new frontier of the Cold War, and the problem was the Soviets were leading in that area. Well, JFK wanted to change that, so before a joint session of Congress, he cast his vision. He said (and I’m deleting some of it), “I believe this nation should commit itself to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Only one problem with that vision: nobody had a clue how to do it. The technology didn’t exist, but that vision captivated, galvanized our nation.
So on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong emerged from Apollo 11 and became the first man to set foot on the moon, and on July 24, the Apollo 11 crew safely splashed down in the Pacific. So, he cast this vision. He saw clearly what nobody at the time could see. We didn’t have the technology. There was no path to get there, but he cast the vision, and less than a decade later, it was a reality. Sadly, JFK wasn’t alive to see it, but that vision still became a reality.
Megan: Contrast that with the story of George H.W. Bush who famously said about vision, “Oh yeah, that vision thing.”
Michael: Right. Like, dismissive of it.
Megan: Dismissive, like, “Oh, that’s a thing that some people do, but that’s not a thing I’m doing.” It really showed that he didn’t have a cohesive vision for the country and probably cost him voters. That’s probably a big reason he didn’t win a second term.
Michael: Totally. I’m going to try to do both sides of the political spectrum, but one of the reasons Ronald Reagan got elected was because he had a vision that he called morning in America. That’s such a great metaphor about awakening to a new morning and all of the possibilities. Barack Obama had that famous slogan, “Change we can believe in,” and then the chant that went along with it, “Yes, we can.” Again, it was full of optimism. It was future-oriented. It was casting a vision for what could be. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall on, that’s a mark of effective leaders. Like them or love them, those two guys were very effective, and it all started with vision, just like with JFK.
Megan: I think this is a good example of why so many businesses fail too. It’s not just the rise and fall of political leaders; it’s businesses also. So many businesses fail because they don’t have vision. They’re not seeing into the future. They’re just consumed with today or even the past, and it really keeps them from getting to the future.
Michael: So true. We have a resource that I think is going to be helpful to you as you think about vision here at the start of the year. It’s called Three Leadership Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020, and it’s designed to help you avoid a major misstep this year. You can get it free right now at leadto.win/pitfalls.
Larry: We’re saying that every leader can secure a better future through four strategic benefits of having a clear vision. Strategic benefit #1: vision prepares you to meet the future.
Megan: The future is going to be different than what we’re experiencing today. We know that intuitively, but I think it’s easy to forget, as business owners and leaders, that no business…not our business, nobody’s business…is going to remain static. After all, how many people are making buggy whips today? At one point, that was a great, innovative business. Not anymore. There are going to be changes in markets and products and consumer tastes and automation, and without vision, we are not going to be ready for these changes; we’re just going to be reactive. We’re not going to be proactive.
Michael: There is a classic example I use in the book The Vision-Driven Leader that comes from the world of photography, which is kind of a hobby of mine. Back in the 1800s… By the way, I wasn’t there to experience this firsthand, in case you were wondering.
Megan: Thank you for clarifying.
Larry: But I was, Michael, and it’s a true story.
Michael: Yeah, you were, so you saw this. Maybe you should tell the story. But photography was cumbersome and expensive, and George Eastman had this vision to make it available to everyone, which was a crazy idea. In 1904, he introduced a camera called the Brownie. It was the first snapshot camera, and that’s when the “Kodak moment”… Do you even remember that?
Michael: The “Kodak moment” was born.
Megan: Hey, listen. I’m not that young.
Michael: Fair point. So, Eastman could see the confluence of a new industry, photography, and technological advances in film. His company went on to dominate the photography market for nearly a century. That’s vision. But the story doesn’t end there. This is where it gets really interesting. In 1975, Kodak invented the first digital camera.
Everybody and their brother has one of these on their person in the form of a smartphone today, but in 1975, Kodak develops it. Kodak’s leadership couldn’t envision a future without film. So, one of their scientists, one of their engineers, develops a digital camera, brings it to the Kodak leadership, and they’re like, “No. We can’t envision a future without film.”
Megan: Yeah. “That’s not what we do.”
Michael: They could have launched the first digital camera literally in 1992, but it was shot down by leadership. Another leader, Steve Jobs, could see the possibilities of digital photos. He built a digital camera into every iPhone, and then the center of gravity shifted from film to digital. You can hardly get film anymore. It has made kind of a comeback, but digital is the norm today. In fact, I’ve heard that Apple has 1,000 engineers at Apple working on nothing but the camera for the phone.
Megan: Wow! That’s amazing.
Michael: That’s how important it is, but Kodak couldn’t see it…not back in the 70s, not in the 80s, not in the 90s. It literally put them out of business.
Megan: Yeah, because vision leads you into the future, and conversely, a lack of vision keeps you stuck in the present or the past. Without vision, you’re going to be unprepared for what’s coming next, just like Kodak was. With it, you’re going to be able to actually participate in creating the future, and that’s really what leadership is all about. That’s what vision is all about, instead of just reacting to change. So you need to develop a vision for your business. That is a critical aspect of your task as a leader.
Larry: Michael, can you think of a time when your vision for either this business or the previous businesses you’ve been involved with really helped you navigate through a changing technology or emerging markets or some of the things the future brings into the present really fast?
Michael: One of the things I saw early on (this was back in 2008) was the potential of social media to upend everything related to marketing. I was an early adopter. I started blogging. I got on Twitter. I got on Facebook a little bit later. I remember the first time I heard about Twitter I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of, and then my friend said, “Well, give it 30 days to try it.” I roped my family into it. We started experimenting with it. I saw the potential of it. I saw the potential to have a megaphone directly to the people I wanted to reach.
Social media has changed everything with regard to marketing. Conventional marketing has never been the same. I think it was because of that that it helped my company at the time, Thomas Nelson, to succeed in a market where traditional marketing was not working as well as it used to be. Even in our own company, Megan, I think we collectively had the vision that live events were going to be part of our future.
We were very much operating in the digital space. We were doing digital courses and all that. We said, “You know, there’s something missing. People want to connect personally.” So we began to articulate a vision for people getting together at live events and beginning to experience that one-on-one connection that you have at a live event, and that has made a huge difference in our business. Live events are one of the main pillars of our business today.
Megan: I think that was a way that we kind of saw a threat to our business, that there was sort of a saturation in the digital course space. At the beginning, that was something that was very successful for us. There were not a lot of players in that space, and over time, because the barrier of entry is really low, there were more and more competitors.
We also felt like we wanted a different kind of transformation as our ultimate transformation for our customers and clients. So, that was an opportunity and a threat that we were looking at, and moving into more of a live format, as well as some other things… That vision helped us to navigate around those things and really create an opportunity when it could have just been a threat.
Michael: I love Alan Kay’s quote: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” You either can be passive or you can be active. The way to take initiative, the way to be deliberate about the future is first to begin to envision something different than what is.
Larry: We’ve just come through our annual gathering of all of the team members in which you both shared our vision for this company for 2020 with the team, who are now going to be charged with executing that vision. It’s interesting to me. It’s not the same as the vision we had for 2019. It changed in some ways.
Michael: It did. Part of what I cover in the book is what the time horizon for a vision is. Some people think it needs to be 10 years. Some people think it needs to be 20 years. I advocate in the book The Vision-Driven Leader that it needs to be about a three-year time horizon. It’s going to be different based on your industry, but for most businesses we work with (and we coach hundreds of business owners), three years is about the right time horizon, because beyond that, things become very foggy.
Technology is changing so fast, society is changing so quickly, it’s hard to have clarity beyond about three years. The three-year vision doesn’t change that much. We fine-tune it every year, but how we implement that, because that three-year vision has to manifest itself into a set of goals for this year… That’s going to be different from year to year.
Larry: So, strategic benefit #1 of a clear vision is it prepares you to meet the future. Strategic benefit #2: vision helps you identify the right opportunities.
Megan: This is a big one, because in business, there are always opportunities that come. In fact, the more successful you become, the more ability you have to take on new projects, to pursue new things. People are coming to you with new opportunities all the time, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get unfocused very quickly and kind of diffuse your leverage and your resources in a way that gets you off track.
Your vision has the ability to keep you on track, to act as a filter, to constantly be a reference point that you’re comparing the opportunities in front of you against and saying, “Is this in alignment with our vision? Is it something that warrants an adjustment of our vision because it really does feel like something we want to incorporate into the vision or is it a distraction?” That process of comparison and analysis is what helps you to focus and, ultimately, to achieve the vision you want to.
Michael: Let me give you an example of how vision helps you identify the right opportunities. This is another case study that comes from the book. In 1982, three former Texas Instruments executives saw an opening. Personal computers were just getting going, and they jumped in. Texas Instruments were famous for doing calculators. I don’t know if you remember these. This was a vast improvement over the slide rule, which was sort of the precursor to these really fancy calculators.
These guys left TI to start a new company, Compaq Computer Corporation, and in five months, they shipped their first units, which was pretty quick. I was an early adopter, one of many. Compaq broke the record for the first-year sales of any company up until that point. They did $111 million in their first year and became the fastest to hit $1 billion. By the mid-90s, they owned the business PC market. If you were in business and you were serious, you had a Compaq computer.
Clear vision means you can easily identify a great opportunity, and they certainly had that. But again, like the previous story, there’s more to it. Success brings its own problems, and the vision could begin to slip. You have to keep updating it, as we were talking about, and why your question, Larry, was legitimate just a moment ago. When home computing began to emerge, Compaq totally missed the boat. They doubled down on business computing. In fact, they acquired Digital Equipment Corporation in 1998 for $9.6 billion.
Meanwhile, Apple, Dell, and Gateway ran away with the home market. Three years later, Dell passed Compaq as the industry leader in PC sales. Compaq pivoted too late. They were later acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2002. Lack of vision, for them, meant they were likely to jump on the wrong opportunities. If you have vison and you keep it current, you can pivot when you need to pivot. They missed that. They didn’t pivot when they needed to pivot.
Megan: That’s right, because they obviously were not measuring against their vision. They got kind of behind on that. They were really trying to align the present with the past instead of the present with the future.
Michael: It’s almost like a carrot with a donkey. You have to keep the vision constantly out in front of you, because once you achieve that vision… I think we got this from our annual team meeting yesterday. We saw that not only did we achieve the vision we had three years ago but we exceeded it. If we didn’t keep pushing the carrot forward and creating new vision, we would stagnate. We wouldn’t have a filter for evaluating the right opportunities, and we’d likely end up in the wrong opportunities, and that’s the point we’re trying to make here.
Megan: You kind of end up in a place of preservation as being your goal, which is really just trying to control the downward slide, instead of innovation being your goal.
Larry: Megan, as chief operating officer for the company, you make a lot of the decisions about which opportunities to pursue and which ones not to. Can you think of a time where referring to or using our company vision helped you say, “Yes” or “No” to an important opportunity?
Megan: Yeah. In the last year, one of the things we have decided to pursue is corporate training. That’s not something we have done in the past. We have primarily served the consumer market and directly working with business owners and entrepreneurs and leaders. What we realized is that we could take much of the same material we have and apply it to a larger organizational context and have an exponential impact on the leaders and contributors in those organizations.
While that wasn’t a part of our original vision, it’s something that’s very much an extension of our original vision, and as we talked about it as an executive team, we felt like it was really in alignment with the future we wanted to create, even though it was an expansion of that. So we wrote that into our vision script this year, and that’s now part of who we are becoming: a premier corporate training company. That allows us to take our methodologies into corporations to help them win at work and succeed at life.
Michael: By the way, again, I want to remind everybody about the free resource. It’s just that I believe in this resource, and it’s free, and you need to avail yourself of it. It’s called Three Leadership Pitfalls to Avoid in 2020, designed to help you avoid major mistakes, like the ones we’re talking about today. You don’t want to be Kodak. You don’t want to be Compaq. You want to survive and thrive as we move through this year. You can download this for free at leadto.win/pitfalls.
Larry: So, strategic benefit #2 of having a clear vision is that it helps you identify the right opportunities. Strategic benefit #3: vision sharpens your execution.
Megan: The thing about execution… Oftentimes, we think about execution and get all excited about strategies for execution and efficiency and all of these kinds of things, but we forget that execution is dependent on alignment. You can’t execute unless you’re aligned as a team, and you can’t be aligned as a team unless you’re aligned around a vision that you all hold in common. So when those things are not in that proper order and you get focused on the caboose of the whole train, the execution, you’re not going to really have the engine that’s going to drive that forward, and that’s what vision is. It’s like an engine for your business.
Michael: You can have a lot of execution in a company, actually, without vision or alignment, and what it shows up as is sideways energy. Everybody is working hard going nowhere. Everybody is spinning their wheels. A lot is getting done, but it’s not directed energy. It’s not directed execution. That only comes with alignment, and alignment only comes with vision.
So many organizations I’ve been in and so many organizations I read about are trying to get alignment, they’re trying to forge it in some way, but without a vision, it’s an empty exercise. There’s nothing to align around other than maybe some short-term goals or something like that, and surely that can work, but again, your likelihood of ending up at the wrong destination is pretty high unless you have a vision that provides the track to run on. You want to have purposeful execution that’s all leading toward something, building toward something.
As you know, Megan, we’re in the middle of a renovation at our home right now, but if there wasn’t a blueprint, if there wasn’t a vision of what this looks like when it’s done, then I could have contractors showing up, subcontractors showing up, everybody doing a lot of work, and it’s a mess, because it’s not going anywhere. We could all be surprised, probably aghast, at what they’re building in the end without that blueprint. That’s what we’re constantly testing everything against. That’s what keeps these different sub-teams of subcontractors in alignment.
Megan: It reminds me of that crazy Winchester Mystery House. Do you remember this? I think we’ve talked about it on the podcast before. It’s this crazy house built by this kind of crazy woman who just kept adding on, and there are all of these rooms and doors that go nowhere, and it dead ends. It’s just all of these things tacked on.
I mean, she was really productive. She was really, really productive, and that happens in our businesses. We’re so focused on productivity and efficiency and getting more done, but we really don’t have any idea of what we’re trying to accomplish or, more importantly, why we’re trying to accomplish it; therefore, it’s just a hot mess. In fact, you can get to the wrong destination faster by doing this.
Larry: Teams really want a visionary leader. Research has borne that out. When asked, “What do you look for and admire in a leader?” researchers found this. The number-one answer was “Honesty,” which is good to know, but the number-two answer, at 72 percent, was they wanted a leader who is forward-looking. When it came to, “What do you want in a senior leader?” that number was 82 percent want a visionary or forward-looking leader. People don’t want to waste their effort.
Michael: They don’t. Just to return to the book for a minute, another example I quote, thinking about the moon landing… According to one report, there was a strong connection at NASA between a NASA employee’s day-to-day role and their ultimate goal of putting a man on the moon. One custodian said, “I’m not mopping floors; I’m putting a man on the moon.”
Megan: Larry, back to what you said. People want a forward-looking leader. I suspect that’s for two reasons, at least I see this in our own company. I think, first, because it makes people feel secure. As an employee, you want to know that your company is not Kodak or Compaq where you’re going to be stuck in the past and miss the boat. You want to know that you have a future, because that’s what you’re dependent on.
Michael: This happened to me yesterday in our annual team meeting. One of our entry-level employees, somebody who has never spoken to me, came up to me at the end of the day and said to me, “Thank you so much. This whole vision/mission/ideology thing meant the world to me, because it has gotten me reenergized, excited, and again, I have clarity about where we’re going.”
Megan: Right. I think the other thing (and that’s a good example) is that your team is looking to you for meaning in their day-to-day activities. They’re looking for purpose in their work. That’s something that is critically important for retention and satisfaction in our teams, and when you provide vision, you’re meeting that need. So it’s really like security and meaning, two very basic human needs that are being met through vision.
Michael: It’s almost like that old story. We’ve all heard it before. Somebody is laying brick in Europe, and it’s up to the leader to say, “You’re not just laying brick. You’re not just building a wall. We’re building a cathedral here,” and to keep that vision. It’s that vision that gives meaning to those mundane tasks that otherwise would just be meaningless.
Larry: So, vision prepares you to meet the future, vision helps you identify the right opportunities, and vision sharpens your execution. Let’s talk about strategic benefit #4: vision keeps you from quitting too soon.
Megan: If you’ve been a leader for any length of time, you’ve probably been tempted to quit. As it turns out, accomplishing something big is really hard. You’re going to face setbacks, you’re going to face disappointments, things aren’t going to work, and you have to choose how you’re going to interpret that. There will be a moment of truth where you have to decide if you’re going to continue or if you’re going to throw in the towel. Vision helps to keep you focused on the future that you can’t see, kind of like, “What’s not here yet?” It keeps you going when you want to quit, because there’s the bigger picture.
Michael: Here’s another story from the book. I love this one, because this is kind of a warning for all of us about quitting too soon. SwiftKey was founded by three friends in 2008. They had a simple vision: find a better way of typing on a smartphone. This is an application I’ve used for a while and absolutely love. Apple has built this into the operating system now. Their predictive keyboard was a breakthrough, but, like most things, it took time.
Microsoft ended up buying SwiftKey for $250 million in 2016. So the vision of these three founders paid off…mostly. But like the other stories I told, there’s another side. When they sold it to Microsoft, just two of the three partners remained and were able to capitalize on that sale. Two of them had kept the big picture in view. They stuck it out through the lean times.
Meanwhile, in what he now calls the biggest mistake he ever made, the third partner left the company after just two months. According to the reports, he “grew tired of the long hours and the work that was required.” So instead of $83 million and change, he earned just enough to buy a bicycle. That’s what he sold his stock to for the other two partners.
Megan: That’s painful.
Larry: Well, again, as we mentioned, we just talked about our vision for the next year here at Michael Hyatt & Company. Does that vision inspire you guys?
Megan: Oh my gosh, yes!
Michael: Absolutely! I get fired up. In fact, I was tasked yesterday with actually reading through our vision script, and that’s what we call it. Not a vision statement, which sometimes people think of as a short, pithy, clever, almost slogan. I don’t think that’s really possible, and I think that’s why a lot of leaders don’t create a vision: because they don’t think they’re that clever and they can’t distill it down to one sentence. We believe in a vision script. It’s several pages.
I was given the task of reading that to the team, and I did. But it became real to me, because we write this in the present tense. The first step toward making anything real is to begin to envision it and then to begin to speak it, and the more you do that, the more real it begins to feel and the more you begin to move toward it. So, yeah, I got really excited about it.
Megan: You also did a great job of reading it with passion. As a leader, if you’re thinking about how you want to present this to your team when you finally get to that point, you want to read it with enthusiasm, with passion, almost like a dramatic reading or a performance, because people are not going to remember the details, honestly. They’re just not.
It’s really on the executive team to remember the details and constantly be measuring opportunities against it. What your team will remember is the passion they felt from you and the excitement they feel about their own future in the context of that vision, even though they won’t remember the details. That’s the most important thing to do in that moment.
Michael: Think back. Another great moment in “vision-dom” is when Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, probably the greatest vision-casting speech of all time. Amazingly, most of that was impromptu, not written out. He was giving that off the cuff. He painted this vivid vision of reality, and he said it with passion. I’m starting to choke up just thinking about it right now.
Whenever I watch that on YouTube, or whatever, I immediately choke up. It’s arresting. And I don’t remember the details. I couldn’t quote the details of it now, but I know that the emotion of that, the enthusiasm, his passion for it… That’s what was arresting. That’s what got my attention, and that’s what made me commit personally to a different reality in terms of civil rights and the future of diversity in our country.
Larry: I think a lot of us have heard vision speeches in a variety of contexts, and some of them have a lot of passion, but it just seems to be too amped up to be believable.
Megan: Kind of ginned up.
Michael: I think that’s where, as a leader, you have to do a gut check. This cannot be manufactured. It can’t be for the sake of manipulating people. It has to be genuine buy-in on your part first. Somebody told me one time, “If your heart believes it, let your face show it.” It has to be communicated through your physicality…there’s no other way to show up in the world…through the tone of your voice and everything else. Again, not manufactured, but it begins with legitimate buy-in. If this vision doesn’t get you excited, get the heck back to the drawing board. If you’re not excited about the vision, you don’t have the right vision yet.
Megan: As the CEO, if you’re not excited about the vision, nobody is going to be excited about the vision. That is an inside job, and you have to deal with that first, because you cannot align people around something you are not passionate about.
Michael: That’s right.
Larry: I just want to let everybody know who’s now wondering, “How do I get that vision?” We are going to talk about that next week in the steps to creating a clear vision. That will be next week’s podcast.
Today we’ve learned that every leader can secure a better future through four strategic benefits of having a clear vision. Vision prepares you to meet the future; vision helps you identify the right opportunities; vision sharpens your execution; and vision keeps you from quitting too soon. Final thoughts today?
Megan: If this is not something you’ve prioritized as a leader…maybe you don’t have a vision or it’s outdated or you feel like it’s insufficient…I can’t say strongly enough how transformational this will be in your organization to spend the time to do this. Don’t worry; we’re going to tell you all about how to do that next week, so make sure to listen to that episode. But this is worth your time. There’s so much at stake, not to mention the future itself.
Michael: Totally. This is not optional. It’s essential. There’s nothing more foundational than vision, and it’s up to you to provide that vision. I don’t care if you’re the CEO or you’re trying to lead from mid-level in the organization. You can have a vision. I’ve been in organizations where I wasn’t the top dog, I wasn’t the CEO, but even within the realm where I had control, whether it was my department or my division, or whatever, I took it upon myself to create the vision, because I knew it was essential if we were going to create a future together and get aligned around it and drive execution. Vision is essential.
Larry: I’ll affirm that, having heard our company vision just yesterday. It really does inspire and direct the team in their work. So thank you for sharing this.
Michael: Yeah, you bet. Thank you, Larry. Thanks, Megan. And thanks to each of you for joining us today. We’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.