Thursday, October 12, 2017

What's Your Vision?

It's 8am in the classroom; 5am in my body. I'm sitting at my assigned seat, next to a man who sells trailers in in Indiana, a woman who runs a Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania, and a guy who provides liability insurance to doctors across the US. A cheerful curly-haired deli owner stands in front of 30 of us and shares a quote he loves: "Artists live in the present and write detailed histories of the future." Something tells me this is not the business visioning workshop I anticipated.

Last week, I attended a workshop on Creating a Vision of Greatness at ZingTrain, the training arm of Zingerman's Deli, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Zingerman's is a deli that has pioneered some innovative ways of doing business. One of those is the use of visioning (also called future-casting).

You can write a vision for yourself, your organization, your project, or your team. At the training, we saw examples of small visions--like a restaurant barback who had a vision for a better way to make juice--and big ones--like the 10-year vision for the 700-person Zingerman's community of businesses. We learned how to write visions, how to use them, and how to share them with others.

For me, writing a vision was empowering, exciting, and useful. It was even more useful to learn how participatory writing visions can be. In the Zingerman's model, visioning is for everyone at all levels of the organization. It's for anyone who wants to go somewhere in their day, their year, their life. Writing a vision can empower you, clarify your thinking, and help you change the world.

So here are a few notes on how to write a vision. If you want to know more, I recommend you check out the related ZingTrain articles on visioning, or even take their two-day course.


A vision is not a solution to a problem. A vision is a detailed history of the future. It's a story written from the vantage point of a few months or years from now. It's a story of what happened after you launched that program, gave that speech, conquered that challenge. What does the world look like in that future? What's different about your life, your work? That's the story a vision tells.


A vision is a story. Write it that way. Write your vision with as many specifics as possible, in narrative form. This is a detailed history from the future. Imagine you're seeing an old friend after a few years, telling them about all the amazing stuff you've done since you last met. Use evocative language, engage the senses, engage your emotions. Make it a positive vision. Put in everything you want to see happen--even if it seems impossible. Don't focus on how you got there. Write about where you arrived.

If you have trouble writing a vision, here are some tips:
  • Before you start writing your vision, write a list of things you are proud of, in any part of your life. The goal here is to write down as many as possible. You'll warm up your hand and get yourself in a positive frame of mind. 
  • Use the "hot pen" or automatic writing technique. Start writing, and don't stop--for ten minutes, thirty minutes, whatever you need. If you get stuck, write nonsense words. Don't take your pen off the paper until the time is up. When you break through stuckness, you might be surprised what you find on the other side. 
  • If you get stuck thinking about the steps to achieve a certain part of the vision, write your way out of it. Imagine you already figured it out. Write something like "It took awhile to raise the money, but once we did, we had even more than we needed." 
  • If you're focused on big picture goals, cast your vision far enough in the future that you're on the other side of all the obstacles you face today. The trainers suggested writing a vision 5-10 years out, and they encouraged us to go for ten if we could. 
  • Dial up the "want." Put in everything you want to see happen. If you want a hot tub in the staff break room, put it in. Don't put in the stuff you're supposed to want. Put in what you really want! No one else is going to guess what you want, and this is your vision. This is your dream. Put it all in. --share it. Get feedback on what parts feel alive and compelling, and which parts seem cloudy or forced. If it's a vision for a group, involve others in the group in the redrafting of the vision. They will make it better, and you will all feel greater ownership over the final version.


This week, we experimented with visioning at my museum in an all-staff meeting. We took 30 minutes for the exercise. Here's what we did:
  • We reconnected about a year-long (already-established) goal to improve our work experience individually and collectively. 
  • I briefly explained what visioning is and why it might be valuable for us. 
  • We took ten minutes to do personal, "hot pen" writing of a vision for spring of 2018. The prompt was to write a detailed story about a day in spring 2018 when we are working even better as a team (whatever that means to you). We all wrote for ten minutes straight. 
  • We paired up, shared our visions with a colleague, and wrote down things we heard that excited us. 
  • We shared those energizing elements with the whole group. These included ideas like "musical chairs job shadowing," "foot massage conference-call room," and "more meetings in public settings." 
  • A small group volunteered to take this work forward to establish a shared vision we can then use to guide us to more collaboration in the coming months.
I'm not sure yet if visioning will become a go-to tool for me or for the MAH. But I'm going to keep trying it. And I hope you will try it too.

In fact, I have a vision for one month from now. It's a Thursday morning, I'm scanning emails, and I'm delighted to get a note from you. After reading this post, one morning, you woke up early, grabbed an old journal, and started writing. You wrote a vision for that big dream of yours coming true. You wrote yourself into a position of agency and leadership. You wrote yourself overcoming obstacles to reach your goal. You wrote a future that is more beautiful because of your efforts. And you shared it with someone. You enlisted them in helping make your vision real. You wrote to me to tell me you tried it. It was uncomfortable, a little weird, but empowering too. I'm looking at my screen, smiling with appreciation for you.
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