How Visions Become Shared

How do individual visions become shared visions?  A useful metaphor is the hologram, the three-dimensional image created by interacting light sources.  If you cut a photograph in half, each half shows only part of the whole image.  But if you divide a hologram, each part, no matter how small, shows the whole image intact.

Likewise, when a group of people comes together to share a vision, each person sees an individual picture of the organization at its best.  Each shares responsibility for the whole, not just for one piece.  But the component pieces of the holograms are not identical.  Each represents the whole image from a different point of view.  It’s something like poking holes in a window shade; each hole offers a unique angle for viewing the whole image.  So, too, is each individual’s vision unique.

When you add up the pieces of a hologram, the image become more intense, more lifelike.  When more people share a vision, the vision becomes a mental reality that people can truly imagine achieving.  They now have partners, cocreators; the vision no longer rests on their shoulders alone.  Early on, people may claim it as their vision.  But, as the shared vision develops, it becomes everybody’s vision.

Building a shared vision involves these five useful skills:

  1. Encouraging personal vision. Shared visions emerge from  personal visions.  It is not that people only care about their own self-interest; in fact, people’s values usually include dimensions that concern family, organizations, community, and even the world.  Rather, it is that people’s capacity for caring is personal.

 

  1. Communicating and asking for support. Leaders must share their own vision continually, rather than being the official representative of the corporate vision. They also must ask: Is this vision worthy of your commitment? This is hard for people used to setting goals and presuming compliance.

 

  1. Visioning as an ongoing process. Many managers want to dispense with the vision business by writing the official vision statement.  Such statements often lack the vitality, freshness, and excitement of a genuine vision that come from people asking: What do we really want to achieve?

 

  1. Blending extrinsic and intrinsic visions. Many energizing visions are extrinsic, focusing on achieving something relative to a competitor. But a goal that is limited to defeating an opponent can, once the vision is achieved, easily become a defensive posture.  In contrast, intrinsic goals, such as creating a new product, taking an old product to a new level, or setting a new standard for customer satisfaction, elicit more creativity and innovation.  Intrinsic and extrinsic visions need to coexist; a vision solely predicated on defeating an adversary will weaken an organization.

 

  1. Distinguishing positive from negative visions. Many organizations only pull together when their survival is threatened. Similarly, most social movements aim to eliminate what people don’t want; thus, we see antidrugs, antismoking, or antinuclear arms movement. Negative visions tend to be short-term and carry a message of powerlessness.
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