Here’s a test. I want you to look at this photo. What can you see? A bare attic? Timber paneling? A small window?
Look out the window. What do you see? Sunlight, but no detail?
Now imagine what might be out that window. A garden? Children playing on a swing? A tree? Leaves fluttering in a breeze? A flower bed? A vegetable patch? Butterflies? Bees? Clouds? Birds on the wing? What else?
Now imagine what might be beyond that garden. What does the neighbourhood look like? What kind of houses would you expect to see? Are there trees lining the street? What is life like in this neighbourhood? How might it have been 50 years ago?
What city do you think this neighbourhood might be in? Somewhere with a temperate climate perhaps? Somewhere in northern European or North America? What would it be like to live in that city? How do its residents live that’s different from your own life? How will they live in 50 years time?
Now think beyond Earth to the Milky Way. Can you imagine life on another planet in our constellation? What might its residents look like. How do they live?
Now think beyond our own constellation to the universe. How many Earth-like planets do you think there might be in the 88 known constellations? Can you imagine black holes? Antimatter?
Can you even imagine the sheer size of the universe? Something with no boundaries, no outer limit?
My guess is that you had no trouble at all describing the room you see, and little trouble imagining the garden outside or the nieghbourhood.
What I imagine you had trouble imagining (unless you’re an astronomer or cosmologist) is the universe beyond our Earth.
So what’s the point of asking you to imagine these things? Because this exercise is a reminder of the limits we place on our own imagination.
If I were to ask you what vision you have for your future, you will likely answer with things like “to be retired and living on a beach” or “to be earning a million dollars a year” or “to be free of worries and stress”. These are the typical answers people give to this question.
Here’s Steve Job’s answer to the same question: “I want to put a dent in the universe.”
Here’s the important difference between Steve Job’s vision and most people’s: his is virtually unachievable.
Vision versus goals
Instead of a vision, most people have a goal. A goal is achievable. It is a destination. A vision is open-ended. If your vision were “to leave the planet a better place”, you might implement a social good program, and then another and another – each one improving the planet a little more. You’d never stop at one because there’s no such thing as too much good.
Vision versus Mission
Lots of companies have Mission statements. Mission is purpose. It’s why you exist. However, Missions are rarely visionary. They’re focused on service delivery, employer engagement, product quality or some such.
Every business and every one of us needs a vision of our future, an audaciously grand idea of what we want to achieve. Once we have a vision, time can be broken down into goals and milestones that brings us a step closer to our vision.
Pretty much everything that Steve Jobs did helped him put a dent in the universe – making computers speak our language, not vice versa, putting computers on our desks, changing the way we listen to music, putting the Internet onto our mobile phones.
Sir Richard Branson has a vision for Virgin that gives freedom to compete in a variety of business sectors – and especially ones dominated by cartels: music, air travel, banking, telephony, train travel.
Vision is a pillar of powerful branding and successful business.
Most of us have limited vision. Not just limited, but limiting. Let your imagination go. Think big – and then bigger. Make your vision something you might never achieve – but by god, striving to get there will be hugely rewarding.