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One of the basic premises we live by is that in terms of corporate culture, Vision trumps Mission. A company’s mission is what they do, and why they do it. The mission is a cornerstone of any organization. We define vision as a place on the horizon. It’s a point that we can see, and if we keep our eyes on that point, we will get there.

Exercise to Understand the Importance of Vision

One of the ways we illustrate vision is with an exercise simulating the feared roadside sobriety test. While it is not politically correct, or in good taste under any circumstances, this exercise illustrates the point precisely. The exercise is based on walking the white line heel to toe. Why not give it a try right now and see if you can pass it.

All you need is a straight line and an observer. First, find a narrow straight line on the ground. If you are indoors using the tile grout line is fine. Next, attempt to walk that line for approximately 25 feet. A condition of this exercise is that you must look down at your feet as you take each step, while walking heal-to-toe. In most all cases, you may notice (but your observer will definitely notice) that your shoulders are wobbling. You will not walk this line smoothly, and you may even stumble. The simulation will appear as if you are impaired.

Next, repeat the exercise, but with one exception. Look out at the horizon and find a point of reference. Your reference point should be in the distance, and straight down the path of the “white line” you are about to walk. Now walk the line again, heel-to-toe. The difference is that this time you keep your eyes on the reference point, and do not look down at your feet. Feel the difference? Ask your observer if you still seem impaired, or even wobble.

Vision- A Reference Point on the Horizon

Without vision (the reference point in the exercise) a mission (taking steps) will be much more difficult to implement. Just as with the exercise, taking steps while looking at your feet will cause your people to wobble and stumble. That is not to say that vision cures all of your operational problems. It does, however, provide your people with a direction. This direction does need to be coupled with a strong mission, but the vision comes first.

How Vision Allowed Me to Surf

I personally had a revelation this week while trying to learn to surf in Costa Rica. Bear with me, it relates, or at least it did in my head. For a week, I took lessons from a very reputable company, Witches Rock Surf Camp. The equipment was great, and the instructors were knowledgeable and patient. Yet, I struggled. There were only about six instructions I had to remember, but I still kept falling. So I practiced enough to get all six set into my memory, and then my routine. I went back out in the water, knowing that I had this, and was ready to go. I fell again. The instructor called out to me that I need to look up, not down at my feet. He said, “If you look at your feet, you will lose your balance and that is why you are falling.”

Then it hit me, I remembered the Vision exercise above and it all made sense. The next wave came and I took it. While I can’t say my form was perfect, I rode this 3 foot monster all the way. The difference? I kept my eyes up, out to the horizon, looking to where I was going, and not at my feet. My feet knew where to go, and when I let them do their thing (without micro managing them by continually looking down), they did what they knew how to do. I kept my eyes out on the horizon and did not stumble, did not lose my balance, and rode the wave. I get it, this is a crazy analogy. Yet somehow I am surfing today, looking forward to the next lesson, instead of fearing it. My point is that business is no different that life. The same processes and lessons we learn can be translated and used in both.

In this case Vision (knowing where I am going) trumped Mission (process of surfing), and allowed me to surf.

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