Your Imagination Is More Necessary Than Ever
by Jeremy Nulik
During what we used to understand as the normal cycle for business management, a great number of meetings would be scheduled about the present. They were called Strategic Planning, Blueprint Sessions or Working Plans. Your task-force teams would report findings, review financials and chart projections.
If your company is one that held such rituals as sacred, your projections from 2019 have been found wanting. At least, that’s very likely true. The disruptions to our health, social, political, and financial systems have been widespread since the beginning of the year. You may be tempted to forego such rituals this year.
Why plan anything with such volatility around us?
However, I implore you: stay your hand. Do not give up on creating your designs for 2021. Instead, try refreshing your ritual to reflect uncertainty.
Begin with a bold vision
Long before COVID-19, successful people began their efforts by creating visions that influence short-term planning and long-term strategy. One such acolyte of business visioning is Ari Weinzweig, founder of the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, an Ann Arbor-based collection of eight businesses that collectively generate over $60 million in revenue and employ hundreds of people. Weinzweig is a self-proclaimed introvert and anarchist. Paradoxically, he also has created 12 Natural Laws of Business as the foundation of his organization. His first law has to do with vision.
Zingerman’s First Law: An inspiring, strategically sound vision leads the way to greatness (especially if you write it down).
At Zingerman’s, each employee writes a personal vision statement with horizons as far out as five years. They write visions when times are great and when times are deeply challenging. They do not do so to predict the future. They do so because this discipline has the power to change behavior and stimulate purposeful action.
“What we do with visioning is very aligned with human nature,” says Weinzweig. “But I would suggest that most organizations are operating in a way that is not aligned with human nature.”
Your imagination is human. Your imagination is necessary. Your imagination is worthy of at least a fraction of the zeal you devote to what you may have assumed necessary before 2020. And that is true of every stakeholder in your company.
Rather than being vague about what visioning can be, you can take steps right now to start. They are from futurist Edward Cornish’s Futuring:
1. Review the organization’s common history to create a shared appreciation.
2. Identify what’s working and what’s not. Brainstorm and list “prouds” and “sorries.”
3. Identify underlying values and discuss which ones to keep and which to abandon.
4. Identify relevant events, developments and trends that may have an impact on moving to a preferred future.
5. Create a preferred future vision that is clear, detailed and commonly understood. All participants, or at least a critical mass, should feel a sense of ownership in the vision.
6. Translate future visions into action goals.
7. Plan for action: Build in specific planned steps with accountabilities identified.
8. Create a structure for implementing the plan with midcourse corrections, celebrations, and publicizing of successes.
Barring such a deep intervention, the simple exercise of writing down what you really want — given all of the attendant challenges — will have an impact on the shape of your business and the lives of the stakeholders involved.
Jeremy Nulik (firstname.lastname@example.org) is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.