Category Archives: Futurist

Vision statements and critical thinking

Vision statements and critical thinking.

Vision statements are a vital component of any successful organisation. But they are difficult to get right.

For a vision statement is the guide post for any organisation, whether a for, or not-for profit. The vision statement is the reference point for all decisions. It provides that overarching theme, if you will, around which all those the support the organisation can channel their effort. Those words say “this is what we are going to be”.

It is indeed, the “nailing of your colours to the mast”.

Now, lets apply the art of critical thinking to the development of a vision statement. For while this set of words is comprised of three components, the composition of these words and their subsequent impact must be thought through.

Briefly, the three components of a vision statement are: 1. your values; 2. your stakeholders;  and 3. your envisioned future state.

Regarding values, what do you stand for? What do you hold dear? What do you want to be known for? Regarding stakeholders, who are they? Who are you serving? Who is being affected by your decisions? And thirdly, that envisioned future state. What does success look like? What are you continually striving for?

Let’s layer in critical thinking to this vision statement discussion.

The ability to think critically is crucial, it is a competitive advantage, it is something that is uniquely human. It will keep you in employment for years to come. But what is it? Is it just taking the time to mull over something? Yes, and no. While there are 8 components to critical thinking I’ll use four of them to help us with our vision statement development.

Four aspects of critical thinking:

  1. purpose
  2. question
  3. assumptions
  4. inferences

And each of these aspects have a set of questions.

First, regarding purpose. The questions are: “what exactly are you trying to accomplish?”, “What exactly is the point of the process?”

Second, regarding question. The questions are: “is the problem or issue stated clearly?”, “Is everybody on the same page?”

Third, regarding assumptions. The questions are: “on what information are you basing your discussions?”, “What aspects do you consider as a given?”

Finally, regarding inferences. The questions are: “what conclusions will be drawn from your words?”, “What meaning will be created?”

So, in thinking about the values component of your vision statement. What is the true purpose of your organisation? Does everybody believe the same thing about your organisation?

With respect to your stakeholders. What are you assuming about them? What is their purpose in being one of your stakeholders?

Finally, when it comes your future state. How will you know you are on the right track? What meaning will be created regarding your aims from the words you choose to include in your vision statement?

So you can see critical thinking does take effort. It does take time.

I believe that Einstein’s words hold true here:  “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

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There is change between now and the future – how do you view them both?

Given that we’ll experience the same amount of new inventions and technological change over the next 25 years that we have experienced over the last 75 years, how will your business be affected?

Secondly, given that the volume and value of international trade has consistently accelerated since the early 1950’s, how will our economy be affected?

And given that some of the highest value jobs on the market were not around 10 years ago, how will your career be affected?

Given these things, can we really say that the future is a far off time? Firstly, can we approach our business, including our customers, suppliers and the competition the same as we always have? Secondly, what about the economy? How will the global changes that we are seeing affect us? For example, look to at the trends in China’s economic growth or even reflect upon how the current events across Europe will play out. The question is how will these global changes impact the local markets in which we trade and the social environment in which we live? And finally, what about our jobs, the career we are planning on having?

Yes there are risks. But there are also opportunities. We can look at the glass half empty, or we can see it as half full (as an aside, some wags suggest that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be!).

So, we should be planning for these possibilities. We should be considering the social and economic trends that will be affecting us. We should be weighing up the risks and opportunities afforded by new technologies, by new ways of doing things.

We should be considering the future through more than “business as usual” lens.

Would you consider viewing the future through a dystopian lens or a utopian lens. What about using a lens of greater regulation and discipline?

For the question is: through what lens do you see the future?

For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, or review my IT Strategy blog.

How do you “win the future”?

Whilst the future is inherently unknowable, the path toward it is eminently discoverable. Reflect on the observation that today is yesterday’s tomorrow. That we are, in part, living out today what we dreamt of in times past.

As a thought experiment, consider the current ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Now, place yourself back in time to 2003 (the year when the “Matrix Reloaded” was released and when the Concorde made its last flight). And think about the technology trends in that year. Consider the growing spread of the internet and the increasing desire for mobile computing and communication technology. And attach these nascent trends to the basic human desire to be connected with others.

Thus we have the ingredients for mass virtual networking. With the opportunity afforded us through hindsight, we can see that these two technology trends in 2003 were used to great effect by people that understood that we are indeed a social being. And that technology and that understanding gave rise to the vision that these people had – that software applications would facilitate social interaction on a global scale.

Now, in futures work, this realisation of visions past being fulfilled can be explained by the three horizons model. Where the first horizon is called today, where the third horizon is tomorrow, and where the second horizon is that period of time between the first and third horizons.

Now, if you frame the current horizon in terms of “Business As Usual” and tomorrow’s horizon as an “Alternative Future”, one can make two inferences. Firstly, that the dominant characteristics of the third horizon are emerging today. And secondly, there are characteristics of today’s world that are no longer dominant in the future.

And it is through the tussle of this messy middle horizon that the winners of today’s competing emerging issues and trends will rise. It is these victors, who use to their advantage these issues and trends, that determine what the future will look like. They can see the weak signals of what is happening around them. And further, one notable characteristic of these victors is that they have an entrepreneurial mindset. They have a predisposition to be able to join the dots and to apply systems thinking to what is nascent.

Think about this messy middle in terms of the tussle between Facebook and MySpace from about a decade ago. Who took best advantage of the rise of the internet and mobile ICT to satiate our desire for connection? Facebook.

So, how does this apply to your situation? How can we relate this three horizons model to a current day circumstance. Well, how about the workings of government? What about how the direction of government is set. Think about this model in the context of say education policy? Or perhaps other areas like social, industrial or health policy? The application of this model is in terms of who can best take advantage of today’s emerging issues and trends in the context of a particular policy area.

One way of applying this three horizons model is by standing at that third horizon. What do you want the future to look like? What do you see around you? How do you describe this prospective landscape? Then, from this yet-to-be vantage point, what are the emerging issues and trends that you need to champion now, in today’s horizon, in order to bring about what you want to see?

For example, say you want to see, in a few years time, a situation where all homes have solar panels connected to a smart grid. What are nascent issues and trends that you could champion now to bring that to pass? Could you perhaps encourage one or more of: the acceptance of the sharing economy, the desire to do something for the environment, the increasing range of solar financing options? More completely, what are the embryonic political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal developments that you need to support in order to successfully realise your policy objective?

The future is there for the winning, but it requires an understanding of what is emerging to shape the vision you see.

For more of what I have to offer, visit Dellium Advisory, follow on Twitter, connect using LinkedIn, or review my IT-centric blog.