THE BIG IDEA: Today’s article is about your big idea—a shared vision that can enliven your organization with passion, innovation, and destiny.
One of our close friends, a long-time CEO of a Fortune 500 company, shared with us this secret into the world of chief executives:
“At the end of the day,” he said, “I’m paid to make three decisions each year.”
He paused momentarily, leaning in closer for impact.
“The key is knowing which decisions are one of those three.”
We had to sit with that last remark for a while. This CEO wasn’t emphasizing making the right decision every time. He was pointing to the faculties of discrimination and discernment: knowing which decisions are the most important ones. It’s not always obvious.
Five Ingredients in Executive Decision Making
In our observations of outperforming leaders, the cultivation of discernment in decision making is a proprietary blend of five ingredients:
- Cognition (a strong executive function that can take multiple perspectives and analyze various scenarios)
- Emotional intelligence (awareness and consideration of subjective factors like feelings, motivation, and social cues)
- Professional experience (which often translates to “street smarts”)
- A healthy dose of intuition or gut instinct
The fifth ingredient is the topic of today’s article: vision.
Outperforming leaders have a clear vision of where they are steering their organization. They don’t necessarily know how they plan on getting there; they don’t need to. They are surrounded by talented professionals with different areas of expertise who are empowered to bring the vision to life.
And the vision isn’t coveted by the executive. It isn’t a secret. It’s a shared vision with the entire organization.
The Difference Between Vision and Mission
Terms like vision and mission are often used interchangeably and incorrectly.
A vision describes how you visualize your business in the future. It’s a collective dream your organization shares.
A mission explains why your business exists.
A vision is dynamic. If your organization is driven by learning and innovation, the vision will likely change or be refined over time.
A mission tends to be static and fixed.
Both visions and missions should capture the passion behind the business and the people running it.
Ultimately, from the perspective of leadership, what’s most important is to have a big idea your organization can rally around—something you and your teams can be passionate about.
Examples of Big Ideas
Here are a few examples of big ideas from brands you know:
Google: to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
Amazon: to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
Southwest Airlines: to be THE low-cost airline.
Nike: to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. (And from Nike’s perspective, if you have a body, you are an athlete.)
Facebook: to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
eBay: to provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world.
Uncovering Your Big Idea
Big ideas, when they stick, can guide an organization to an extraordinary future. It helps you determine when to move and where. It provides a shared vision that creates cohesion within your organization, which can lead to superior execution over time.
To discover or refine your big idea, consider the following questions:
- End picture: What will your business look like when it’s done?
- Passion: What does your organization love doing? What are your collective strengths (based on employee passion, past performance, and available resources)?
- Leadership: What will your organization be a leader in? What are you committed to being the best in the world at?
- Impact: Where can your enterprise have the greatest impact? Whom are you committed to best serving?
As with any discovery process, be sure to start with a Beginner’s Mind. Pretend that you don’t know the answers. Be open-minded. Be receptive to any idea, even the most outrageous ones. Stay curious.
Bringing Your Big Idea to Life
After you’ve articulated your big idea, let it sit and simmer for a while. Have everyone sleep on it. Return to it with fresh eyes and see if it ignites your collective passion.
Next, impregnate your organization with the big idea. Sell in. Find ways for employees to make it their own.
When a big idea sticks in an organization, every employee can find ways to help actualize the idea. (And that’s when real magic starts to happen.)
Finally, walk with courage and boldness, for, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
The same holds truth for your organization. So dream BIG!
P.S. If you’re in New York City next week for National Retail Federation’s Big Show, join us for our breakout session with retail mastermind and CEO of Dave’s Soda and Pet City, Dave Ratner.