“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

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“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—So long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

C. S. Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When I suggest to organizational leaders that we spend some time on their vision statements, I often feel as if I’m in Wonderland. After all, everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing. Everyone is so busy with more to do than they can get done. Why, I am often asked, do we need to spend time thinking about that distant future? We have to solve today’s problems. I’m convinced that the time we spend thinking about the future will help us with today’s problems. Time after time, I’ve seen the work of drafting a good vision statement change the energy among staff members. The discussion itself is essential in helping team members understand the issues, challenges, and possibilities of their work. The success in drafting a compelling vision statement can provide both direction for the future and energy for the difficult work of solving today’s problems.

Does it matter?

Spending time on the web exploring this topic, I found an article describing research on this very question. In their article, “The Power of Vision: Statements That Resonate”, Sooksan Kantabutra and Gayle C. Avery asked this as their research question. (See citation below.) They quote prior research from Robert Baum in 1998 on startup firms saying that vision “had a statistically significant and positive impact on venture growth.” Interestingly, Baum also found that it doesn’t matter how one defines vision.

However, researchers have found seven specific characteristics of powerful vision statements. They are: “conciseness, clarity, future orientation, stability, challenge, abstractness, and desirability or ability to inspire.” The article briefly describes each characteristic. For example, clarity means the vision statement points at a “prime goal…. (that) can be understood without extended presentation and discussion.” Interestingly, they should also be “abstract” which allows staff members to “apply their own creativity within the framework of …. (the vision.)” The description of these elements is worth reading.

But how many ways can I describe____?

The authors cite another article by Kotter (1999) which says “successful visions do not have to be brilliantly innovative; in fact, some of the best ones are not. Effective business visions can even have an almost mundane quality, often consisting of fundamental ideas that are already well known.” I find this idea reassuring. After all, there are only so many ways to describe the work being done in great organizations across the country. We don’t have to find the most unique way to describe our vision. We only need to write vision statements that resonate with us and that’s work we can do. And it’s work that will help us both determine where we want to go and how to get there.


I found this article several weeks ago and printed out a copy. As I was writing this article I went back to find the link. And I can’t find a link that allows me to simply print it out. However, it is accessible through university libraries that have this journal. So I have used it for this article and here is the citation:

Kantabutra, S. and Avery, G. (2010), “The power of vision: statements that resonate”, Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 37-45. https://doi.org/10.1108/02756661011012769

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