I think it's easy to see why someone who has the power
to imagine, to be creative, to posit alternatives in a
coherent way that others can understand, is going to be
more influential than someone who can't. There's been a
lot of discussion and refinement of the notion of
"vision" in the past ten years or so. A vision is your
picture of a desired state of affairs at some point in
the future. A vision provides a way for people to agree
on goals and how they'll be met. Without a vision, we
get lost in the details of daily life, or swamped by the
feeling of being out of control.
Let's imagine there are three people looking at an open
field just outside the city limits. One person sees a
baseball diamond for kids to play on. Another sees a
mini-mall with convenient little shops to stop at on the
way home to the suburbs. The third person sees the
perfect place for low-income housing. Those 3 are very
different visions. Yet, assuming that this plot of land
is waiting to be developed, someone's vision will win
My point is that nothing happens without a vision to
guide the way. We all have visions. They're usually born
from some need. You have books and papers lying all over
the floor, and you envision a nice new bookcase against
You can see that your mail room personnel are very busy
at certain times of the day, and at other times they're
all sitting around telling jokes. So you envision a
system where their work is scheduled in a much more
When the senior management at the Steelcase Furniture
Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan decided to reorganize
their company, they began with a vision of a company
where everyone's talents and energies were fully
engaged. They decided that the traditional corporate
building they were in wouldn't allow for that, so they
envisioned a flat, spacious headquarters. Construction
on the Corporate Development Center began in 1986. When
it opened in 1989 it had seven levels with large areas
where multi-discipline teams could meet. There were no
separate departments for different functions. Executives
are clustered around the center of the building where
everyone has easy access to them. And there's even an
escalator so people can talk to each other while
changing floors. What's important to note is that the
Steelcase's Corporate Development Center began with a
vision of how they wanted things to be.
How would you go about developing a vision that would be
attractive to other people? Here's the starting point:
"What if" questions. "What if" questions jumpstart your
imagination and thinking. One thing that all creative
thinkers know is that you don't limit yourself at this
first stage. Don't assume any rules or limitations.
Don't say: "What if we could pull off this project with
only 4 people," and then immediately stop yourself by
saying: "No, that's stupid. It'll never work."
In A Whack on the Side of the Head, Roger von
Oech suggests you start getting the juices flowing by
asking yourself: "What if gravity stopped for one second
every day?" What would happen to oceans and rivers? How
would houses be designed? What would happen if you were
eating an ice cream cone during that one second?
That's a great example of suspending the rules and
allowing yourself to play in the realm of the possible.
Von Oech calls it "getting into a germinal frame of
mind." That's like a garden bed with rich, black dirt
where seeds get a good start on germination. "What if"
questions allow you to free yourself from deeply
ingrained assumptions you have about how things are
Von Oech also addresses the issue of the impractical.
Sure, a lot of your early "what if" speculations are
going to be utterly impractical. But embedded within the
impractical is often a seed of practicality. He cites
one example where an engineer at a large chemical
company did a "what if" by suggesting that they mix
gunpowder into their paint products. Then when the
surface needed repainting, they could blow the old paint
off of it.
Now that's not very practical. But it did open up the
idea of having something within the paint that allowed
for it to be removed easily. The engineer's "what if"
question opened up everyone's thinking about putting
additives in the paint. One additive would be in the
paint when you bought it. It would be inert until
another substance was spread on the surface. When the
two chemicals interacted - bingo! - the paint would come
off easily. The company went to work on making that
vision a reality.
Again, the point is: stop your critical judge from
coming in too early on the process. The part of each of
us that says: "That'll never work," is always present,
ready to speak up. Let the creative, innovative
visionary in you come out and play.
Visions are born for all sorts of reasons: to make
money, to end a problem, to improve a situation, to
create an alternative, to have more fun. Some people
have visions where other people see only problems or
nothing at all. What would you build on that empty field
outside of town?