It’s really hard to create a bright new future when we don’t have a strong vision of what a desirable future looks like. When we lack a clear definition of what “victory looks like,” we tend to drift along, doing the same things over and over again, hoping for a better future. (A definition of INSANITY!)
Consequently, our innovation and new product development decision making process suffers as we muddle our way through hoping things will get better. Instead of thinking and acting strategically, we become reactive, taking on marginal projects in response to sales complaints that go something like this: “if we only just had so and so.”
Our product development pipeline becomes jammed with incremental and marginal projects that provide very little upside potential, and sales still can’t win new customers after we bust our chops to add extra features. And/or we take on too many tactical projects that sends us in too many directions. We can’t build any strategic momentum and end up confusing our customers because they no longer understand “who we are.”
The harsh reality is that the world keeps changing, faster and faster. It’s hard to keep pace, and even harder to catch up when new technology comes along and changes the rules of the game. Customers have moved on to new ways of solving their problems, and what we offer, no longer has appeal. No matter how many features we add to our buggy whips, customers simply no longer need or want it.
What lacks is a new vision to inspire us to take positive and focused action in creating a desirable future. A future we choose to create where we can thrive and grow. Our vision needs to be bold, clear, desirable, energizing, and feasible. Vision sets the direction of where we want to go, and strategy sets the stage of how we will get there.
Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”
~ Joel Barker
According to Warren Bennis in his book Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge
To choose a direction a leader must first have developed a mental image of a possible and desirable future state of the organization. This image, which we call a vision, may be as vague as a dream or as precise as a goal or mission statement. The critical point is that a vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible, attractive future for the organization, a condition that is better in some important ways than what now exist.”
Perhaps the most famous and compelling vision in modern times was JFK’s vision of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of the decade. Kennedy’s vision set the stage and guided NASA’s human space flight program from the beginning. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were designed with his objective in mind. Each sub mission was a critical path to achieving the ultimate mission of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely.
What would have the outcome been had Kennedy simply stated “go build rockets and compete with the Russians?” We will never know, but chances are NASA would have had several competing projects, some perhaps quite impressive, but without a clear vision, its resources would most likely have been diffused and mostly focused on “one-upmanship” with the Russians. And quite possibly “landing a man on the moon” within in a decade – wouldn’t have happened – perhaps not even dreamed of without Kennedy’s leadership and vision.
If we cannot define our business clearly, we may well find ourselves trying to compete in markets where we have no competitive advantage, no profit, no strengths, and no future. A great deal of time and effort will be wasted with well-intentioned product ideas that do not fit the company and its resources. A future we will not enjoy being in, and probably not survive for very long in.
From our vision, we create goals, and from our goals we create strategy. Strategy is about identifying opportunities, selecting and best, and skillfully exploiting them. Strategy drives product development. Product development is most effective when viewed as “applied strategy.” Development of anything for the sake of it is a luxury few companies can afford and a waste of resources. Even mighty Google is putting “more wood behind fewer arrows” in its efforts to address bigger opportunities. Seems to be working for Google, and it will work for you.
So what does “victory look like” for you three to five years from now? Does it inspire you and your team to take focused action in creating a desirable future reality? Do the projects in your product development portfolio align with your vision and strategy?
Be bold, be clear and take action in creating a bright new future.