Most Vision Statements are Uninspiring. Yours Doesn’t Have to Be.

Why your vision makes all the difference in the world, and how you can lead with vision in 2021.

Can I get a confession out of the way, first? I’d never read a blog post about corporate vision statements. Yet, I’m writing one for you to read. 

Why is that? Well at some point, vision statements became self-centered and uninspired. They became synonymous with vague platitudes that aren’t relevant to our day to day work. For example, “To become the most trusted and successful [insert industry] institution…” captures roughly 80% of corporate visions out there. (No joke, look up the first three corporates who come to mind.) 

Your vision doesn’t have to sound like this, though. In fact, it shouldn’t, because your vision makes all the difference in the world. 

I mean that in two ways. One, this is the whole point of your vision — to get a clear picture of what the world will one day look like because of your work. Two, when you have that clear picture of the future in your mind, it should change everything about how you work today.

Vision makes all the difference in the world.

Do you know the common denominator between the world’s most effective corporate innovation programs? The programs that, by definition, are changing the world?

It’s their people. It’s never the tools, the workspace, the compensation plans. It’s the creativity and relentless drive of the ones who show up to do the work. So if you want to innovate in 2021, the question for you is, how are you leading your people? 

The further 2020 slid us into a “let’s survive today” reality, the less mental space we had for the higher-order thinking that innovation requires. Imagination. Aspiration. Courage. Starting 2021 with a vivid, colorful picture of what you believe the world can become because of your work will restore the vigor, resilience, and focus you need to innovate.

These are the feelings I want for you every single morning you open your laptop this year — and it’s likely what your team is craving, too. 

Introducing the External Empowered Vision

A powerful vision captures our imagination, fills us with a sense of wonder, and gives language to what we see the world becoming. It’s our companies’ north star.

So how do you get there? We’ve spent some time over the past few weeks defining what makes an impactful vision statement. Pat Riley, GAN’s CEO, introduced the External Empowered Vision last week, and we’ll dig into some of this, here. This type of vision is rooted in what drives us all as humans.

The External Vision

An external vision focuses on helping all humans flourish — not just an individual or company. 

Look back to the “typical” vision statement at the top of this blog — “to be the most trusted and successful {insert industry} institution…” — the reason this is so uninspiring is that it’s completely internal. Internal visions only focus on the individual or company’s success.

An external vision creates a win/win for the company and the greater good of everyone. The company’s success = humanity’s success. It also invites us into a journey that changes us (as people) — not just our companies.

Chip Heath says in his book Switch, “Because identities are central to the way people make decisions, any change effort that violates someone’s identity is likely doomed to failure… So the question is this: How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequences?”

The keywords here are change and identity. Innovation budgets are often built on a fear of “corporate darwinism.” Those who don’t change will soon become extinct. But change — the mandate for all innovators — is only successful when it becomes part of us — not just our companies. A good vision causes us to set out on a journey that changes you and me and who we are as people by the time we arrive.

For example, Volvo’s vision of “no deaths or serious injury in our cars” sees a safer future for all humanity (it’s worth debating if Volvo’s vision is still an empowered vision or not, but it is absolutely external). And while Volvo Innovation helped their Cars Group become the “safe car company,” their engineers became guardians, their consumers became caring and concerned parents looking out for their kids. And all humans on the road with Volvo cars win.

The Empowered Vision

Building on the external / internal idea, an empowered vision is one that’s active, and identifies the type of world we want to work towards. It’s the pursuit of a destination that’s different and greater than where we’re already headed.

Daniel Pink says in his book Drive, “Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.”

We all want to do meaningful work, and this happens when we contribute to a project or an initiative that’s creating a uniquely brighter future (see Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy for more on this).  In contrast, the disempowered vision identifies where the world is already going and hops on board. 

It’s worth noting that an empowered vision has an expiration date. What was future-oriented and empowered twenty years ago may no longer be empowered today. For example, many car companies (Volvo) set an empowered vision decades ago to build safer, smarter cars that were better for the earth. Today, that’s where the world is already headed. 

Empowered visions are ever-evolving, giving life to the destination you’re working toward, and a definition of why it’s better than where you are today.

Leading with vision is your job — not your board’s.

But wait, you’re not part of the board of directors or your PR team, right? You don’t sit in on the closed-door conversations where these statements are made. You don’t write the content for the corporate website. So is it really your job to build the vision?

It is your job, and it’s more than okay to create a vision statement that’s specific to your group. 

Let’s go back to the Volvo example for this. If you check out Volvo’s corporate website, their vision is, “To be the most desired and successful transport and infrastructure solution provider in the world.” That sounds a lot like one of the uninspired, “80%” vision statements, right? It does. So, the “Aiming for Zero” vision is something that was built by and is specific to the Volvo Cars Group’s safety team.

So if you’re less than motivated by your overall corporate vision, you get to create your own.

Innovating with startups requires vision.

This whole conversation is extremely important for the corporate teams who see building, buying, or partnering with startups as a cornerstone of their innovation strategy. That’s because the typical corporate incentives, metrics, and KPI’s don’t motivate startups. 

Founders are driven by a will to create a different world than the one they’re living in today. So when a founder sees a corporate who is leading with vision, it’s a huge differentiator. It signals that you’re someone they want to be in business with, and your vision can confirm that you’re both rowing in the same direction. That makes building a partnership between two entirely different entities much more frictionless.

How Microsoft’s vision created high-impact startup partnerships.

Last fall, at GAN’s Annual Summit, we asked everyone these two questions:

  1. What do you believe the world could become through your work? 
  2. What can you specifically do to achieve this vision?

GAN Partner Microsoft and their Global Startups team, led by Noga Tal, were at Summit. Noga and I got to talking about Microsoft’s vision, “We envision a world where people and businesses realize their full potential,” and how her team is working out the answers to these two questions. 

Do you know what one thing every startup needs to realize its full potential? Revenue. Things like investment, talent, and technology all exist to create the revenue that sustains the business — which can then go on to create value, jobs, and culture. 

The Microsoft for Startups team took that corporate vision, placed it in the context of their group, and decided they were going to bring startups revenue. Now, startups get Microsoft’s help to land new enterprise customers, which they would otherwise struggle to reach — and this enables Microsoft’s enterprise customers to find technologies they’d otherwise miss. 

Just last year, startups in Microsoft’s program secured over $1 Billion in new sales, with the average deal size over six figures. That’s a pretty definitive answer to question number two above — “What can you specifically do to achieve your vision?” 

Your next 5 years.

So now, the same questions for you. As you think about your next five years (or three years, or even one year)…

  1. … what can the world become through your work? 
  2. … and what can you specifically do to achieve your vision?

And if your innovation group doesn’t have a statement that ties this answer together, in a way that includes the two must-haves and is engaging to startup founders, you get to create one.

We can’t wait to hear your vision and see what you build. 


More on building successful corporate-startup partnerships can be found in GAN’s field guide for doing business with startups the right way: