In our previous articles we have discussed how to be successful in business and life. We have stressed our belief that they are not mutually exclusive; that you can do both well if you have the right approach and tools. In our last installments we talked about a holistic model for accomplishing this. One of the elements in that model is Vision. We’ll spend the next few columns on this vital piece of the holistic model.
Let’s begin by imagining that you’re a police cadet, and you’re about to train for high-speed car chases. First, the sergeant explains, when you’re driving at high speed, the dangers go up exponentially. It takes you far greater distance and time to stop than if you were driving at normal speeds, which means the potential you have for harming yourself or others radically increases.
Your trainers are going to talk about the temptation to focus on the low horizon (i.e., looking right over the edge of the hood). Imagine a serious and somewhat intimidating sergeant explaining this to you: “When you get going ninety, one hundred, 110 miles an hour, you can get scared. You start looking at what’s right in front of you. But if you do that, you’re going to end up in an accident. Your reaction time can’t keep up with the speed you’re going, so if you’re trying to navigate around what’s right in front of you, you’re going to swerve all over the place. You’re going to overcorrect and flip your vehicle, or you’re going to smash into something, or veer into oncoming traffic. The low horizon is not your friend.”
EYES ON THE HIGH HORIZON
This low horizon danger is just as real for business leaders. Especially when you get stressed, or when the speed of business picks up, you start solving the problems right in front of you. You focus on putting out fires, or you swerve every time you see a new opportunity or threat. You make quick decisions that don’t consider your Core Values or your Core Purpose; they just seem like the right decision for the immediate future. But that’s dangerous driving, and it’s not going to help you reach your ultimate goals. The low horizon doesn’t work well in a high-speed chase, and it doesn’t work well in business either.
Let’s go back to our sergeant. Imagine him taking off his aviators and giving you a piercing stare. “If you want to stay safe, you need to keep your eyes on the high horizon. Keep your eyes way out in front of you. That’s where you’re searching to make corrections. When something comes into your vision on that high horizon in the distance, you’ll see it in time to course correct, and your corrections will be more subtle. They’re smoother, and you’re going to be able to avoid the obstacles in your path more effectively. Everybody’s safer, and you have a chance of actually catching the bad guy.”
Business constantly requires that you adjust to varying factors that are outside of your control. Without a clear idea of where you’re going, how are you going to know whether to turn left or right? If there’s an obstacle that forces you into a detour, how are you going to make sure your course correction is moving you toward where you want to go? When you spot an appealing new opportunity, how will you know if that road will take you in the direction you’re aiming for, or if it’s just a distraction that will take you off course?
Consider the complications presented by speed as well. In our “boom” days at Half a Bubble Out, our business doubled nearly overnight. The sensation was like jolting from sixty miles per hour—which felt fast, but manageable—to 120 miles per hour, which felt downright dangerous. Even with two new hires (which, as we’ve explained, we hired at a reckless pace which didn’t work out well), we could barely keep up. All we could focus on was clearing the next thing off our plates, and our eyes dropped to the low horizon.
If your phone starts ringing off the hook and your customer workload explodes, or if there’s one fire after another you’re trying to deal with— that’s when it’s going to feel most tempting to look down at what’s immediately in front of you—but that’s also when it’s most important to keep your eyes up on the high horizon. Many businesses have failed because of explosive growth; think of a restaurant that gets an amazing review and gets too famous too quickly. They can’t keep up with their influx of customers and people end up having a terrible experience—the food takes too long to come out, it’s undercooked, and the service is bad because the servers are overwhelmed.
The best way to help yourself when your speed radically increases is to identify the high horizon vision ahead of time. If you already know where you’re going and how you want to get there, an increase in speed isn’t going to jeopardize your entire journey— it will accelerate it. Granted, the pace will feel dangerous for a while, but you won’t make the same mistakes that you would have if you were only operating with a low horizon view. If you can maintain the high horizon view as your pace increases, you’ll learn to adjust to your new speed of business; for instance, we now feel comfortable operating at “ninety miles per hour” at Half a Bubble Out, even though that would have felt impossible in our early “sixty miles per hour” days. No matter how fast you’re driving you always need to keep your eyes up.
And what exactly are you looking at, when you keep your eyes up? What exactly are you focusing on, on that high horizon? That’s what this series of articles is going to explain.
We love this quote:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The first core competency we’re going to discuss, and the one at the center of the wheel, connecting to all the other competencies, is Vision. Forming a clear, complete, and compelling Vision for your company and then navigating by it is the equivalent of keeping your eyes on the high horizon. By forming a Vision for your company, you’re going to help yourself in the short term, the long term, and at every step along the way.
- Short term: Your Vision will help you make decisions and understand what opportunities to say yes or no to. It will help you survive your current challenges in a way that maintains your Core Values and keeps you on course. The Vision will help you form a Strategic Plan that will provide your employees with clear quarterly and annual goals, enabling them to work efficiently and productively.
- Long term: The Vision will also identify your long-term goals and describe how achieving those goals will impact the world around you. Your Vision will give you a clear idea of your purpose and hoped-for legacy, which will enable you to keep yourself and your employees motivated during hard times. You’ll maintain your Core Values, ensuring that you get to your destination in a way that you can feel good about.
A clear, complete, compelling Vision answers the questions: Why are we doing this? What’s the point? What is it we’re actually trying to achieve? And what will our life and company look like when we get there?
Once you know the answers to these questions you are ready to head out on the highway and find enduring success in your life and your business.
Next time: Vision, Part Two