"Oh, you mean the vision thing like where I want to be in ten years?"
"My vision? To make money, what else is there?"
"Nah, that's Fortune 500 stuff, we're too small for that"
Honestly, I don't blame anyone who rolls their eyes at the thought of answering the question; it's confusing and perhaps overrated and certainly an abused concept - just because you have a vision (most likely because some consultant said you must have one) does not mean you get it.
Vision, Mission, Value, Purpose are critically important but have been tossed and spun around so many times that we just walk away.
Truth is that the value of any of those concepts is not what you come up with but how you get there - yes, it's all about the inward, challenging thought and analysis that is designed to answer a simple question: "Why am I in business? No, I really mean why?"
This is an excruciatingly painful process - getting to understand the question and then to come up with an answer - not the one you think everyone wants to hear but what is truly at the heart of your...well, heart.
So, sticking to my mission of dispensing with useless jargon and making things simple, here's the thing about vision and what it really means. Seth Godin, in his brilliant recording "Leap First" says it best:
"Do you want to matter?" or more profoundly "would we miss you if you were gone?"
Hopefully, if you're a business owner, your answer is "yes, of course I want to matter". Otherwise, why would you trade a steady paycheck for a future filled with uncertainty?
And, the follow up question is, "would we miss you if you're gone?"
Now think about businesses that matter, make a difference and that we can't imagine life without them: Apple, Amazon, JetBlue, Zappos, FedEx, or your corner Pizzeria where you're always greeted by name and the food is addictively tasty?
Want more proof of why the process is powerful? In a recent Forbes article "Why The Best CEOs Consider Purpose Before Profit" the CEO of Noble Energy shares, "This new purpose reinvigorated employees. It connected them to how Noble Energy approaches business, not just what it does. And while internal excitement around this purpose was a terrific outcome, the larger benefit was how the mindset of “energizing the world, bettering people’s lives” would drive the organization for years to come."
I'm not quite ready to rest my case for replacing vision with "how will we matter?"
Please avert your eyes and look at the image that is part of this blog. Artists envision their art long before it hits the canvas. This painting is vivid, dynamic and beautiful but most importantly it is a demonstration of the power of the human mind: Yes, the same mind that is called upon to answer a question about vision or why your business matters.
Would it make a difference if I shared with you that the artist who painted this beautiful piece is blind?
The answer to "what's your vision?" or "how will we matter?" isn't found in Wikipedia or by spinning off someone else's vision. It's closer than you think and in many cases more obvious than you know but...you've got to go through the process, there are no short cuts.
To create a business that matters, just like a beautiful painting by a blind painter, requires vision and careful, methodical and deliberate steps.
Finally, when you have the vision of why you should matter there's one more step: Commit and never look back.