The Language of Vision

October 29, 2007

Look in the coffee room of any large corporation these days, and you're likely to find a vision statement framed on the wall. Like many of the management trends of the past three decades, creating a vision statement, along with a mission, vision and values credo has been an essential act of an organization's leadership. What a company's vision statement says, as well as how it says it, should reflect the care and thinking that went into envisioning it.

Anyone can have a vision. Take enough intoxicating substances, go on a vision quest without food or water, or hold up in a cave like a mystic and you’ll have a vision. But what makes a true visionary is being able to communicate it to your followers clearly, with relevance, passion and commitment.

Visionaries like Da Vinci, Edison, Jimi Hendrix, Norman Lear, Robert Mondavi, Sitting Bull and Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.—all were able to communicate their visions of a better world, or a new way of hearing and seeing to others.

But what is a corporate vision statement? It should express a business’ aspirations that set its direction for the future. It is not a business strategy, but it guides it. It is not a marketing strategy, but it informs it. It is not a branding strategy, but it inspires it.

Business leaders who can articulate their vision with the right language will have an enduring and inspiring rallying cry that can motivate their employees to storm the competitive hill and follow you into battle. Look at vision statements from Apple, 3M or and you’ll see fine examples of compelling, powerful language.  Apple’s vision statement says, “Man is the creator of change in this world. As such he should be above systems and structures, and not subordinate to them." You can see that vision reflected in the intuitive screens and systems of a Mac computer. gave itself room to expand beyond books with a vision “to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” And 3M’s vision statement establishes their goals to “grow by helping our customers win through the ingenuity and responsiveness of people who care.”

How do you write the best vision statement for your organization? Here are 4 simple rules to help you turn your vision in actionable language:

1. Look beyond immediate issues to describe what you see far into the future
Imagine that you could look into the future and come back to report on what you see. That’s what a vision statement should be. A business strategy is not a vision statement. Regardless of your immediate business challenges, your vision should be lasting and almost unattainable. Think of it as a 100+ year plan, no matter what happens next quarter. 

2. Combine tangible business realities with powerful emotive language.
If you want your employees to be inspired and motivated by your statement, you must communicate with language that stirs the soul. Compare the kind of words used to describe a piece of equipment with how people feel when describing their children. Avoid business-speak and capture the passion that energizes your employees.

3. Consider many perspectives to be relevant to your multiple audiences.
Having a 360-degree viewpoint will make your vision more fully dimensional. Your vision will reflect how your company relates to your employees, your customers, the financial world and your communities. Try to see your company from their point of view, not just internally, and reflect that in your statement.

4. Appeal to human values, not only economic value.
What your business does, how it does it, and what your goals are—these are all important parts of your statement. But you need to think of your vision statement as more an architect’s sketch than blueprints to build the house. Your vision should express an idea, a thought or a goal that lies ahead and is yet unseen. If you already know what it is going to be, maybe you’re not looking far enough.

Larry Oakner
Brand Director


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