What’s the corporate vision of your organization? At Thinkergy, we’ve always had a clear picture of a compelling future for our innovation company. But due to changes in the wider business environment in recent years, however, our crystal-clear, bright and motivating vision had somehow become hazy, lukewarm and doubtful. So what can we do to retain or regain vision clarity in our uncertain times? Try vision scenarios!
Corporate vision: A picture of your organizational future
Most well-led organizations have an absorbing corporate vision of how their future is going to be like. Together with a corporate mission and a set of corporate values, the vision statement is part of the strategic core of a purpose-driven organization. While corporate values define the code of conduct of everyone (“How do we want to undertake our business activities?), and the corporate mission spells out your raison d’etre (“Why are we here?”), a corporate vision paints a compelling picture of how the organization’s future will look; it also provides reasons of why people should try to create that future and how it contributes to the organization’s mission.
A compelling vision statement clarifies the direction of where the organization is heading to, and motivates everyone to work together to realize this desirable future state. But what happens when clarity and belief in your vision turn into obscurity and doubt?
The modern vision dilemma
In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, the business environment has become increasingly risky, complex, uncertain and ambiguous. Foreseeable changes in the wider political, economical, social and technological environment, coupled with unexpected surprises, make it increasingly difficult for companies to hang on to just one vision. Yes, it once promised to be a safe road to paradise, but given the dynamic nature of the modern business environment, being attached to one vision may also send you down on a highway to hell. What can you do as a leader to move beyond one vision?
Introducing vision scenarios
I found the resolution to Thinkergy’s vision dilemma at a seminar on future thinking. The renowned futurist Sohail Inayatullah introduced me to Scenario Analysis, a technique that invites you to first explore future trends and possible discontinuities, and then to envision and narrate a set of alternative scenarios of how the future may unfold in line with some of the identified trends.
The technique was popularized in the 1970s as “scenario planning” by Royal Dutch Shell, and as “scenario thinking” also used for military war-gaming exercises. It worked well in the relative static corporate and political world of the mid-Cold War era. But nowadays, planning and analysis do no longer suffice to deal with the complexities and uncertainties of a highly dynamic business world. Complement these left brain-directed cognitive activities with the right brain-directed activities of imagining and envisioning to resolve the modern vision dilemma.
Moving from one vision to scenario visions
At Thinkergy, we’ve always envisioned setting-up a world-class innovation center. Labeled “The Thinkergy Innovation Playground”, we imagined this purpose-designed innovation space to host high-end innovation workshops (for visiting corporations) and thought-leading innovation conferences, and also to serve as a home base for our outbound innovation teams serving our international clients.
Right after the futures workshop, I began imagining alternate vision scenarios for Thinkergy’s growth that ride on different trends and employ different business models. We complemented our original vision by four vision scenarios:
- “The Premium Innovation Boutique” is the first new vision scenario. Imagine a boutique innovation agency with premium innovation methods and sophisticated “thought-ware” serving organizations who are willing to pay premium fees for our high-end solutions. This scenario requires limited capital investment while maximizing our profit margins, but limits our ability to affect wider positive change with our innovation methods.
- “The Thinkergy Innovation Network” is a global network of innovation partners who, as licensees of our contents, help us spread our innovation know-how globally. Here we empower our network partners with our know-how and new methodological contents, which the network rewards with licensing fee payments. We would also use digital networks to distribute more basic entry-level content such as books, apps and tests to the general public. Playing on the trend of the entrepreneurial society, this vision allows us to share our know-how more democratically with a wider range of B2B- and B2C-customers, provided we carefully select our partners to ensure the quality of content delivery.
- “Big fish eats small fish” is our “disowned” vision scenario in the truest sense of the word. To get hold of our innovation methods and know-how, a corporation, consulting company or educational institution acquires Thinkergy in parts or in full with an offer hard to turn down. While we would continue sharing our innovation expertise in this case, it’s not up to us anymore to decide whether we direct our efforts only internally to one organization or also can continue serving the wider external market.
- “The Intersection” is the final new vision scenario. It combines two or more of the above vision scenarios into a bigger, more impactful and meaningful shared vision.
So what has happened? Since I have detached from our one vision, and mentally opened up to alternative future vision scenarios, amazing things have happened: Thinkergy will use the “innovation network” vision scenario to enter the North-American markets in the third quarter of 2016.
More surprisingly, our “intersection” vision has emerged on the radar screen, too: While on a business trip to the US, I met someone who is raising hundreds of millions of dollars to set-up a series of innovation centers worldwide — and expressed interest in both our “innovation playground” concept and innovation methods that can help him animate these centers.
Conclusion: As a business leader, consider moving from one vision statement to a set of vision scenarios to gain greater flexibility to creatively react to new market developments. Develop a game plan for each scenario ahead of time, which allows you to quickly seize emerging opportunities and to go with the flow of the dynamically changing modern business world.
© Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 12 May 2016.