Developing Personal Vision

Among all animals, human nature is expressed in its constant search for creating and manipulating the world. We seek meaning and purpose in our existence through religion, philosophy, science, and business. Institutions and organizations are created to carry out this creative drive in an orderly fashion, so that many may experience the benefit. It could be said that humans possess an intrinsic visionary drive; each of us is born with potential to fulfill. Through the fortune of life circumstances, a person fulfills that potential as fully as possible. Some people receive support for their endeavors and are mentored in their pursuit. For others, their potential is squashed by cultural and social rules, lack of education and opportunity, or impoverishment; some rise above the constraints. The concept of vision is most frequently applied within an organization; vision helps those leaders to determine the direction in which they wish to go and develop strategies to accomplish goals. Since organizations consist of humans, it would be laudable to apply the same template to an individual’s life. In this era of transient employment, where companies frequently “rightsize” and lay off workers, and where employees often change jobs or careers, it makes increasing sense to consider oneself an organization and to develop a vision for one’s life.

In the article, “Building Your Company’s Vision,” the authors suggest that enduring success comes from maintaining a core ideology which remains fixed in an ever-changing world, while simultaneously adapting strategies and practices (Collins & Porras, 1996). Core ideology consists of two components: core values and core purpose. Core values consist of three to five timeless, guiding principles which have intrinsic value to the person, and which the passage of time would not change. A core purpose is a person’s reason for being; it captures the soul of the person or organization (Collins & Porras, 1996). The core purpose does not change, but it catalyzes change. Core ideology cannot be created; it is discovered through a process of introspection. In a changing economy, it is vital for an individual to understand her core ideology; such knowledge will assist her in seeking out organization which share her values and purpose, thus creating a good fit.

Complementing core ideology is an envisioned future, in which 10-to-30 year Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals are set and given life through vivid description. BHAGs can vary in their focus (Collins & Porras, 1996). They can be quantitative or qualitative; be common-enemy oriented; be role-model oriented; or be internal transformation oriented. In the first category, the BHAG is focused on achieving a certain established goal. A common-enemy goal has as its purpose the usurping of another. A role-model goal would be applied in a situation where one is a newcomer who seeks to become like an already established entity. An internal transformation goal is utilized to bring fresh life to an established organization. Vivid description brings BHAGs to life by providing a vibrant, specific description that engages a person; it brings the BHAG to life. It is a means of making the BHAG tangible in one’s mind. Passion, emotion, and conviction are essential parts of vivid description (Collins & Porras, 1996).

An essential point to remember about creating a vision is that it is just that–a creation. It is not a prediction. Therefore, there is no right or wrong vision. In the process fleshing out the vision with BHAGs, it is vital to keep in mind that failure to achieve the goal does not mean it was unworthy as a goal. Additionally, research has shown that visionary companies are often able to achieve their most audacious goals (Collins & Porras, 1996). Visionary companies tend to be flexible in their strategies, using a more organic process of trying many approaches to see what works. An envisioned future has its purpose in inspiring movement, as long as the BHAG has not been achieved. Once this is accomplished, it is time to establish new BHAGs and recreate a vivid description (Collins & Porras, 1996).

This theory of developing vision integrates well with and is enhanced by some of the new philosophy of systems thinking articulated by Peter Senge and Margaret Wheatley. In order to examine the development of a personal vision within these paradigms, however, the first task is to consider what it means to be an individual. The word, “individual,” suggests one entity. However, this entity of “self” actually comprises a system (Hoskins & Leseho, 1996). Numerous metaphors exist for the description of “self.” The self has a past, present, and future, all of which interact to influence the other. One’s past informs the way one thinks about the present, and actions taken in the present influence the future. However, experiences encountered at a future time can impact the self so as to alter one’s perception of the past. A person is a dynamic system of self-creation.

Additionally, an individual consists of body and mind, and depending on one’s belief system, perhaps spirit. These aspects of self also interact as part of a system. Another way of perceiving the self is via three roles: child, adult, and parent, or in more Freudian terms, id, ego, and superego. These roles within the self converse, exerting influences on thought, feeling, and behavior. Yet another aspect of viewing the self is through perceiving the self as a system of thinking, feeling, and acting; any aspect of the system catalyzes the other.

Furthermore, the individual self exists within a number of other systems (Berger, 1994). In the domain of human growth and development, a person interacts with the following systems: the microsystem, which consists of immediate social settings, such as family, classroom, peer group, workplace, that directly affect the individual’s life; the mesosystem, which are links that connect one microsystem to another, such as a parent-teacher conference, or the correlation between overtime work and problems at home; the exosystem, which are the neighborhood and community structures (including newspapers, television, and public agencies) that affect the functioning of smaller systems; and the macrosystem, which are overarching patterns of culture, politics, economy, and so on. Thus, when considering an individual mission, one is in fact dealing with an organization for which a vision may be developed (Berger, 1994).

The four main points presented in Leadership and the New Science are that order can emerge from chaos; information informs us and forms us; relationships are all there is; and vision is an invisible field which shapes behavior. Often, in the process of creating an organizational or individual vision, the temptation is to apply a structure to it, to make lists and break the process down into pieces called goals. This stifles the process of creation, however. One can compare the concept of discovering core values and purpose to the concept of strange attractors. A strange attractor begins with a core component which then randomly and chaotically repeats itself; however, over time, what appears is the development of an image which becomes quite complex but always remains within certain bounds (Wheatley, 1992). A core ideology serves much the same purpose; it is a seed from which a pattern grows.

Additionally, the process of discovering a core ideology rests in the relationship one has with oneself and with the external world. To understand one’s core values requires looking at the historical self and answering the questions, “What has always spoken to my heart?” and “What kind of being do I want to be 20 years hence?” Seen another way, one can examine the relationship one has with the physical, mental, and spiritual domains. Wheatley suggests that we are physical manifestations of information. We interact with a world where intangible information is manifested as three-dimensional matter. Yet there is more than meets the eye.
Similarly, a core ideology is the information which is manifested in the BHAGs and vivid descriptions one creates. The process of developing a vision successfully rests in permitting the free flow of information and ideas, not squashing them. A dynamic, living system can only be so when in motion; equilibrium brings stagnation and eventually death. Again, this applies to BHAGs and vivid description; once a goal is achieved, it is necessary to use information and relationships with the world to allow yet another pattern develop, i.e., create new goals and descriptions which inspire. Otherwise, the system (self) dies.

In the creation of vision, it is important to keep in mind that one exists within a field. Fields encourage us to think of a universe that more closely resembles an ocean, filled with interpenetrating influences and invisible structures that connect. In light of developing a personal vision, one can think of the mesosystem, microsystem, exosystem, and macrosystem mentioned previously as fields through which one moves. One is participating both by influencing and being influenced by these fields. A personal vision itself is a field which can impact other fields (Wheatley, 1992).

One method which embraces the concept of ordered chaos to develop vision through relationship and the free flow of information is that of brainstorming. In a well-facilitated brainstorming session where all participants are truly welcome, the creative process emerges. The “Four Ps” of an ideal brainstorming session can effect this: 1) People, 2) Process, 3) Pressure, and 4) Product (VanGundy, 1998). The most effective brainstorming groups consist of four to six members, and multiple groups should generate ideas in the same room. This concept can be applied to development of individual vision in two ways. One, a person can gather several people who know her well and brainstorm core values, purpose, BHAGs and vivid description. Two, she may choose to brainstorm these things from different perspectives in herself: the child, the wise old woman, the body, the spirit, the past, the future.

Process refers to the methods used in generating ideas, such as Assumption Reversals or Semantic Intuition (VanGundy, 1998). Assumption Reversal states that one’s assumptions about a situation often stymie our ability to find a solution; reversing an assumption can trigger creativity. Semantic Intuition involves reversing the process to normally name new products. Thus, instead of inventing a product (or in this case, an vision) and then naming it, one can name a product and then invent it. An example of Semantic Intuition might be to name an audacious goal and then to explore the components which would need to exist to create it.

Pressure refers to environmental influences on the group (or individual). They can be positive or negative, internal or external. Research shows that the most effect environment for creativity is one of fun, humor, spontaneity and playfulness (VanGundy, 1998). This same concept can be applied to the process of creating a vision. The Product aspect of brainstorming refers to the material produced. Initial ideas serve as potential triggers and raw material for more workable ideas. Again, in the process of developing BHAGs and vivid description, this aspect would serve well. Brainstorming, however, is but one strategy toward developing vision. Personal mastery offers another path.

Senge discusses the development of personal mastery and personal vision in his book, The Fifth Discipline. He describes that an effective way to discover vision is to ask “Why?” to each statement one makes about one’s purpose. He also iterates that real vision cannot be isolated from the idea of purpose (Senge, 1990). Purpose relates to the sense of why one is alive, which correlates with core ideology. Vision, according to Senge, is a vivid, specific goal. Purpose without vision lacks a sense of appropriate scale; vision without purpose lacks passion (Senge, 1990). Senge suggests that vision is multifaceted: it can pertain to material desires and needs, personal values, and service, and that it takes courage to hold a vision which runs contrary to the mainstream culture (Senge, 1990).

In the process of creating vision, one can encounter creative tension, which is the difference between current reality and the vision. This tension also produces a by-product of emotional tension. Often, the applied solution to this tension is to reduce the scale of the vision so it adapts to reality. A lowered vision provides an escape from emotional tension, but it insidiously encourages us to abandon what we truly want (Senge, 1990). Another more constructive method of managing creative tension is to continuously work toward creating the reality to match the vision.

Senge also discusses the “structural conflict” which exists in most people: that of their powerlessness. This worldview is created by two beliefs which limit one’s ability to create what one wants. One is the belief in the inability to bring into being what one truly cares about; the other is a belief that one does not deserve to have what one truly desires (Senge, 1990). Senge points out that these structural conflicts are often so deeply imbedded that one is unaware, and this lack of awareness contributes to the power the structural conflict exerts on a person. Senge describes three ways in which one might deal with structural conflict (devised by Fritz). The first strategy is allowing one’s vision to erode, which defeats the purpose. The second strategy, called “conflict manipulation,” utilizes negativity and fear as a motivator to overcome the conflict. The consequences of this strategy is that one lives in a state of constant fear, which is contrary to the holistic purpose of a vision. The third strategy is that of “willpower,” where one will “psych oneself up” to overpower all forms of resistance. The consequence of willpower is that one exerts enormous effort to attain goals at the cost of well-being in other areas.

A more constructive solution to nurturing a vision and handling structural conflict is through a process of changing the underlying beliefs which create the tension. Through a commitment to discovering the truth about oneself, a person can broaden her awareness, recognize patterns, and learn new ways to respond (Senge, 1990). Senge’s perspective aligns with Wheatley’s, in that this process arises from discovering, integrating reason and intuition, and seeing one’s connectedness to the whole universe.

Gathering all these diverse voices together, it is clear that they sing in unison. The development of vision is a response to the inner yearning to create and bring forth one’s potential and purpose in the world. This cannot be done by applying mechanistic concepts which divorce themselves from oneself. Vision must be discovered by listening within and understanding the fundamentals of one’s existence–core values and core purpose–from which can grow goals and vivid descriptions of those goals. Uncovering these requires a person to open to possibilities, to chaos, to freely receiving and communicating information, and to relationships. In the process, it is important to become aware of the negative methods one resorts to in coping with stress, and to be open to learning how to change beliefs which obstruct progress. Ideally, vision can be a strange attractor, with core values and purpose providing the seed. Through the process of manifesting Big, Hairy, Audacious goals (chaos), the glorious pattern of who one is unfolds in a universe which is vibrantly alive.

References:

  • Berger, K.S. (1994). The developing person through the life span (3rd ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.
  • Collins, J.C. & Porras, J.I. (1996, Sept/Oct). Building your company’s vision. Harvard Business Review. (74), 65-77.
  • Hoskins, M., & Leseho, J. (1996, Jan/Feb). Changing metaphors of the self: Implications for counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development, (74), 243-252.
  • London, S. (1997). Insight & Outlook – An Interview with Margaret Wheatley.
  • Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline . New York: Currency Doubleday.
  • Type Works – Myers-Briggs in Organizations Newsletter (June 22, 1998). Does Peter Senge know about type? [On-line].
  • VanGundy, A.B. (June 22, 1998). How to Create the Ideal Brainstorming Session.
  • Wheatley, M. (1992). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
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