Point of View

20/20/20 Vision

by Michael D'Antonio

Vision is a difficult thing. It is perhaps the single most important ingredient to success in business. It is what makes good ideas great and great brands famous.  Yet, it is rare, often misunderstood, and at times, even vilified and run out of town. We all admire a few of the canonized default-heroes like Jobs and Hsieh, but rarely do we find that kind of vision on display in our own organizations, core teams and break out rooms.

So the question is…why? One answer is that you can’t teach vision. It is a skill you cannot coach. Like a world-class musician or an elite athlete, you can chalk it up to God-given talent – a freakish natural ability that comes along once or twice in a generation in the form of a Bezos or Branson. While that may be true, it feels too easy and far too cynical for us. Sure, there are those natural born visionaries and extraordinary folks that will always be the super nova luminaries in the industry, and thank goodness for them.

But for the rest of us mere mortals, can we learn vision? Can we develop vision? I believe so. I believe that every creative thinker, every manager, every executive and every junior can develop vision skills much like they can develop presentation skills. They may never be a Steve Jobs – in fact, we are pretty sure they won’t be. But it is a travesty that most companies and organizations put virtually no effort or energy behind vision. They spend more time teaching about the email system than having a vision for the brand. This seems incredibly (and pardon the pun) shortsighted.

At Madhouse, we believe in 20/20/20 Vision. This is our model for teaching the core discipline, so it permeates throughout an organization. There are three simple steps to 20/20/20 Vision.

First - 20 Questions.  Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest. The first reason most never develop vision is because we don’t ask enough questions.  We choose the path of least resistance. We don’t like conflict. We hear what we want to hear. And we get it as quickly and painlessly as possible. So…ask questions until you have completely run out of ways to ask them. Then…ask different ones.

Second – dedicate 20% of your time to developing a vision for your brand. This has to be a consistent priority. That is, spend 8 hours of a 40-hour workweek dedicated to the vision of the brand, on things like developing core principles and values, creating white space heat maps, challenging preconceived notions and sacred cows and proactively tearing down conventional structures that get in the way of that core vision.

Third – 20 independent advisors. Build a list of 20 smart people who are completely outside of your industry/sector/space. Meet with each of them at least once a year via a face-to-face meeting, conference call, coffee, informal chat but no email.  Simply select 20 people you admire who have no connection to what you do or to your brand, and this will become your Board of the Future. Bring one problem to each of these conversations and then listen. That is all – just listen. Trust us, doors will open and ideas will flourish. The combination of brainpower, intuition, common sense and outside perspective these 20 people will bring will be invaluable to developing, maintaining and protecting your vision.