Our job as entrepreneurs, as Michael Gerber says in his books, is to speak our vision into reality. But how do we do that if we’re confused about the very term itself?
When I speak about vision with my clients, most automatically jump to the mission, skipping the vision altogether. But I look at words like vision, mission and purpose as tools - they are designed with a specific outcome in mind. Use them correctly and you’ll get the outcome. Mistake one for the other and you’ll end up lessening your impact or worse, confusing people about what you are up to and why they should care.
What we need to do is get the definitions down and apply them. Thankfully, it’s actually really simple. And once you try applying the definitions for yourself, they become easy and natural - like riding a bike, you’ll never forget them.
Purpose is what you believe about the world to be true. It will feel unique and personal. Something greater than any one venture can realise, and something that gives you power to start a business. It's like a North Star that guides you on your journey.
Vision is the change you want to see in the world. It describes, in short or in depth, what the world is like after your work is done. It's a state where your current journey ends.
Of the three, a good vision is the most important and the most missing. It is the bit that makes everyone care about what you’re up to - your customers, your investors, your team. It gives the answers to the ‘why’ questions, which very few businesses are answering.
The best exercise I know to craft your vision is to write what Michael S. Hyatt calls a vision script. Vision script is a 3-5 page document that outlines what reality is like at some point in the future when your vision is realised. Say, in 3-5 years time. Start with at least ten bullet points of specific things that have happened. Include areas: scale, customers, impact, your personal day, team, achievements.
As you start with vision, this will be hugely helpful in informing your mission by hinting at what specific things you should be doing to fulfil it.
Of course, when you’re out speaking with people, you only have a little time to capture their attention. You won’t read or recite your vision script to them. What you will do is share the big picture vision. One or two sentences about the kind of change you're making through your venture.
Your mission is what you're doing to make that change (your vision) real. Your mission is is roadmap. Your short-, mid- and long-term goals and actions you take to achieve them. It's the steps you take to move forward on your journey, towards realising your vision.
This is the bit we're often most trained in, the planning, structures and project management. Our natural instinct is to focus just on the plan and actions and forget about all else.
But without something greater guiding us, it's easy to lose sight of what's really important. When people are driven by a vision bigger than themselves, they grow to be bigger people than they know themselves to be. Being firmly rooted in the purpose and vision, we stay present to why we started the the business in the first place and where it's going.
Let me give you mine as an example. Find me at a (virtual) conference after-party and I'll likely tell you that..
- I believe that technology and business can contribute to solving humanity's biggest challenges. (Purpose)
- To fulfil that, entrepreneurs need to be building companies that have massive positive impact, bringing abundance and sustainability to everyone. (Vision)
- And so, I work with entrepreneurs on finding product-market fit, so that they can grow and scale their innovative businesses and have more impact. (Mission)
Distinguishing your purpose, vision and mission is a simple and really powerful process. It won't capture the full nuanced reality, but it's not meant to. It's creates a simplified map of the future you are building, so you can communicate it effectively. As an entrepreneur, one of your primary roles is to spread your vision and purpose and inspire others to join you on the journey. For that you need simple tools like this one to get people to really understand your motivations and plans - your customers, team, stakeholders and beyond.