The “Disneyland” Story

We’ve explored the concept of Vision in this blog before. But I’d like to share a technique that has worked for me – perhaps you’ll find it valuable too. Simply put, vision is “what it looks like when we get there.” Remember when we were young and a family vacation to Disneyland was being planned? What was the focus? It wasn’t so much on the long journey to get there. Instead, we could see ourselves riding in the Tomorrowland Jets (long gone now) or in a Matterhorn Bobsled. We could taste the cotton candy and hear the whistle on the Mark Twain Riverboat. In other words, we had a vision in our minds-eye of what we were going to experience.

As entrepreneurs we have that same vision. The problem for most of us is that it remains trapped inside our heads. We struggle to articulate it to others. And so our team members punch the clock every day with no clear idea of “what it looks like when we get there.” It seems pretty clear to us, but they don’t have a clue.

I’ve been struggling with communicating my vision for many years. I often launch initiatives and undertake projects that all make sense within the framework of my vision – but to others it seems like a helter-skelter approach to something that is undefined. At times, members of our team have expressed frustration with the process and begged for a clearer picture. I’ve tried reducing my vision to writing, but a few bullet points later even I’ve been uninspired.

At the urging of a friend and former colleague I took another stab at it recently. But instead of trying to put it on paper in a concise one or two paragraph manner I went a different direction. I decided to tell a story. I mocked up a Wall Street Journal masthead and put myself in the shoes of a WSJ reporter writing a profile of my company – ten years in the future. I actually picked the name of a real reporter and the date on the masthead was really ten years out. And then I told the story in considerable detail. What unfolded were several aspirations; explanations of how the aspirations were to be achieved, and ensuing measures of success. I quoted real people. I talked about how our customers were going to feel. Our culture was highlighted and several strategies were outlined. One thousand seven hundred and seventy words later a clear picture emerged representing “what it looks like when we get there.”

I’ve started sharing the vision story with various teams – our Executive Leadership Team, Senior Managers Team, etc. My vision needs to become a shared vision and I’m eager and willing to tweak it so that it is inspiring to as many members of the team as possible. We’re beginning to work backwards from what it looks like ten years in the future, to identify the various strategies that will be needed to reach the vision. Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done – but finally; for the first time in more than 40 years, everyone has a clear picture of where we’re going.

If you’ve been having a tough time articulating your vision, I encourage you to write your own story. And if writing isn’t really your thing, sit down with someone who has the gift of prose and tell him or her the story from your heart. This person can serve as your translator and put on paper the story that you will share with your team. You’ll have several re-writes. You’ll add, delete, clarify, expand and fine tune. Just remember that the final product should be inspirational. It should be as big and bold as you desire. And anyone reading it should come away without any doubt about “what it looks like when we get there.”

We all have a Disneyland image of some sort for the organization to which we have committed so much of our lives. We can share it with others through a storytelling process that creates clarity and a call to action.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Disneyland

980 by 600

I saw a video clip the other day of the Haohan Qiao Bridge that stretches 980 feet between two cliffs in China’s Shiniuizhai National Geological Park. It’s a suspension footbridge that is extremely unique in one particular sense . . . it’s made of glass. As you walk (or crawl) across, you see through the glass floor and look straight down 600 feet to the canyon below. We’re told that the glass is 25 times stronger than ordinary glass and if it breaks it is so dense that a person won’t fall through.

What’s interesting about this bridge is the fact that it’s bold, it’s big AND it’s safe (we’ll assume for the moment that what we’re being told about the bridge’s safety is correct). This bridge is the perfect metaphor for what we’re trying to accomplish as entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with small-ball, but after playing this way for a number of years we sometimes yearn to take that big leap across the canyon. Doing so requires that we push beyond our comfort zone and summon a fearlessness that we may not have previously experienced.

What prevents us from taking big and bold action? Often it’s a question of safety. We’ve invested much in the way of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we are today and we don’t want to risk our bank account, our 401(k), our home, our health, our reputation and yes, the possibility of failure. The risk of failure is likely the Number One reason we don’t take those big and bold steps. The rest of the risks can be successfully managed. We use them as “why not” reasons, but ultimately it all boils down to the chance that we might fail.

What does failure look like to you? Many of us are programmed to abhor failure. In school, getting an F was something to dread. Our parents were disappointed. We thought we looked stupid in the eyes of our classmates. There was real shame associated with this letter grade. Throughout our lives we have been conditioned to avoid failure at all costs. And so we say things like, “I don’t want to go all-in on my business idea because I can’t afford to put my family at risk.” But at the root of it, we are afraid to get that paper back from the teacher with a red F in the upper right hand corner.

I’ve said many times that failure is simply an unfinished experiment in the laboratory of life. Failed experiments can sometimes be the only way we eventually get it right. I’ve started numerous business ventures that failed. In one case we raised investor money to fund a particular concept but could not get the traction we were looking for. Within a few months we realized that we were going to fail and so we gave everyone’s money back and shut down the venture. The goodwill from the early recognition of our failure and the act of returning the investment capital enabled us to build even stronger relationships with those investors who have invested in subsequent ventures. Long ago I realized that there is nothing to be ashamed about when we fail, and maintain our integrity in doing so. I just haven’t figured out how to go big and bold without the risk of failure somewhere in the equation.

Here’s the bottom line. Step One – think big and then think bigger. Step Two – focus on how to mitigate the risks that could be associated with failing when launching that big (bigger) idea. Step Three – release the ego and realize that failure doesn’t diminish us as individuals. Step Four – create a solid implementation plan. Step Five – GO FOR IT!

Going big and bold is a process to be managed. But it also means that we have to get out of our own way to deny the insecurities and perceptions of failure that prevent us from moving forward.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

glass bridge.