Before I get too far into this blog post about how to write a vision, it feels appropriate to share a vision of what success looks like for this blog post. Here goes:
It’s a sunny Friday afternoon in early September 2019, and I’m sitting at my computer in the office, Zingerman’s Coffee Co latte in hand, diving into my email inbox. I see the title “Thanks for How to Write a Vision” as the subject line from a name I don’t recognize - it’s someone who recently came across the May blog post. They’re responding to the challenge at the end of the post, asking folks to share the visions they write, and wow have these visions been fantastic! There’s a vision of change from an accounting firm, going from one brand of coffee to another in the break room. There is a vision of a successful product launch from a software company, who wrote again months later to let us know that the vision came to fruition. This vision is from a retail employee who would like to become a manager, sharing the story of what it looks like when they’re in that role. The hope for blog posts is always that they’ll help people use our tools to make their work easier and better, and it feels that this post hit the mark.
What you read above is the kind of vision that I love; the short, quick vision that sets out what you’re going for on a smaller scale of success. At ZingTrain, we spend a fair amount of time teaching about the BIG visions - the long-term picture of what success looks like for an organization, 10 to 15 years in the future. That kind of vision is incredibly helpful - it really sets the goalpost of what we want to accomplish. But once that vision is written, it’s all of the little visions that nestle under it that really help us achieve that big vision of success.
What I’m going to share with you is our time-tested, much-beloved process for writing a vision of just about anything. The examples I’ll use are for a smaller, shorter-term vision, but the same basic process works for the large, long-term vision as well.
How to Write a Vision
Step One: Pick Your Topic
What is the scope of your vision? What problem do you want to solve, accomplishment to realize, or change to make? Keep it specific and focused.
Step Two: Pick Your Time Frame
The time frame will depend on the scope of your vision. If it’s a relatively minor change to the way you organize office supplies, the completion date of the vision might be two weeks out. When I’ve written a vision before a keynote (example at the end of the post,) the timing has ranged from a week in advance to the morning of.
I would encourage you to put the time frame out a little further than your first instinct - give yourself room for reflection, new information, and to not get too hampered by how you’ll make things happen.
Step Three: Write a List of "Prouds"
Start a new document on the computer, turn to a fresh page in your notebook, and take 5 minutes to list all of the things you’re proud of. Personal, professional, organizational - it’s all good fodder for "Prouds!" No one will see it, it’s for you.
This step is one that many folks want to skip, and I’ve seen it cause visual discomfort when we’re leading a workshop in person. However, it’s a key part of the process, and integral to getting your head in the right space before you start drafting the vision.
Step Four: Write the First Draft of the Vision
Now that the pump has been primed, you’re ready to start writing! To set it up, get to a fresh page in your notebook or the next page of a Doc, and write 5 important letters across the top of the page. Ready?
Writing DRAFT across the top of the page is helpful in two regards. First, it gives you permission to be carefree with spelling, grammar, and punctuation - it’s simply a draft! Second, when you share it with others, it lets them know that it’s not final so they can give you feedback.
Use Hot Pen
This is putting pen to paper and not lifting it until you’ve got a healthy stretch of words out on the paper. Or that your fingers are warmed up to keep typing and you’re not focused so much on what the next idea will be, the words are flowing out at the pace of your brain. Ari will sometimes start writing swear words until other words kick in; ZingTrain's Former Managing Partner, Stas’, used to write “Mary had a little lamb …” to get his brain connected to the page.
This goes hand in hand with Hot Pen - don’t stop to edit, don’t focus on those red squiggily lines under misspelled words - turn that off if you’re like me and can’t stand it! This exercise is about getting those ideas out, you’ll have time to fix and edit later.
Get Into the Future
We write visions in present tense, as though we can see it happening. It’s not “We’re going to,” it’s “We are.” Or even, “We did!” And we write with descriptive detail, so it’s easier to picture yourself in that moment of accomplishment.
Go For Something Great!
Otherwise, what’s the point? Even for something that seems like it’s not a big deal, like a change to the coffee, a vision that reads “The new coffee is better and people aren’t complaining about it too much.” is not as compelling as a vision along the lines of “I could smell the scent of freshly brewed coffee wafting down the hallway before I even got close to the breakroom. The notes of caramel and toast let me know that we were serving our custom blend today, and I can’t wait to take my first sip!”
The more you can include impact and emotions, the most other people will connect with and support your vision. Let the reader be able to picture themselves in your shoes, take the journey with you.
Write From the Heart (not the Head)
Our head often gets stuck on the HOW (versus the WHAT of a vision), and we can start thinking, “Oooh, I don’t know how that’s going to happen,” or “I don’t think I can get people on board by then.” The vision is about getting out of your head what success looks like - you can do the strategic planning once the vision is done.
Let Yourself Go
People are often worried that they’re “doing it wrong” - taking too long to write the vision, or not long enough; too much detail, or not enough detail; too much on their feelings and the sensory component, etc. Again, you’re starting the draft, so get the “Voices” out of your way and remember that you can always change your draft!
What Comes next:
Step Five: Review and Re-Draft
Step Six: Get Input from Content Experts
Step Seven: Share the Vision
I’m not including too much detail in the last three steps for two reasons: one, in a shorter term, smaller vision, we don’t often spend too much time going past a first or second draft, particularly for something that’s more personal, like a vacation. Two, this is where the vision writing becomes iterative - or we keep working on it, make adjustments, getting input, editing, adding, getting more input, and so on - until it comes to a point where we’re ready to say “Okay, good enough!”
Now that you know the process, I thought I’d share another example of a vision, drawn from real-life experience. I was invited to give a keynote speech for a conference, on the topic of Visioning. What better way to kick off a keynote on visioning than to read the audience MY vision for that keynote?!? In part, it helped set the tone of what I hoped for from the participants, and the second benefit was to demonstrate the vulnerability that can come with visioning. What you’ll see below is the exact, unedited vision I wrote about a week in advance of that keynote:
It’s 11:15 am on Tuesday, December 13th, and I’m heading out of the room after the Visioning keynote at the Great Lakes Fruit & Vegetable EXPO, feeling great about how it went!
When I first stood in front of the group and looked out at the sea of 300 faces, I felt a flock of butterflies in my stomach. Then as I took a deep breath *take a deep breath* and thought about my intentions for the session, the tension eased, and off I went.
It’s almost a year to the day from the Visioning keynote at the Virginia Farm to Table Conference and the reception from the group was just as warm and welcoming - it was a delight to be presenting again to a group of people so dedicated to good work.
During the exercises, you could hear a pin drop as folks wrote in their workbooks, and I could see several people shaking their hands out to alleviate writing cramps. I am confident that many great visions got their start today, and I’m looking forward to hearing from folks as they complete their visions!
At the end of the keynote, many people came up to give me a high 5, which left everyone’s energy high heading into the next session.
Now I can imagine you asking, “What happened, how did it go??” Exactly as written. Even better, I did a breakout session the next day on putting visioning to work, and many people who were in the keynote attended that session, asking great questions and listening intently.
To encourage you to give visioning a try, I’d like to issue a challenge to you! Write a vision for something you have coming up - could be for a conference presentation, or a clean-out and re-organization of the supply closet, or your own professional growth. Send that vision to firstname.lastname@example.org (with your permission to share the vision as an example for others) and we’ll send YOU an electronic version one of Ari’s visioning pamphlets.
Like any newly-learned skill that feels uncomfortable at first, once you start using visioning in the every day, it becomes easier and more of a habit. As it is at Zingerman’s, visioning can become a part of the fabric of your organization where just about everything starts with a vision of greatness.