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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

The Story of Vision is So Powerful That... It Can Lead a Group Astray

The story of vision is so powerful that it can lead a group astray. To the point when they experience a break from reality.

Warren Craddock posted a Twitter thread about three products that failed. These three failures, and Craddock’s analysis, illustrate the power of vision in a unique and relevant way. I talk a great deal about the lack of vision and the impact this lack has on our society. But while not as visible as the lack of leadership, the opposite is also true of vision: when a strong vision breaks from reality.

In the Twitter thread, Craddock provides three examples of camera products – the Lytro camera, Google Glass, and Google Clips – and explains how the failures came about because each product had a fatal flaw. The members of each development group saw these flaws, Craddock argues, but were unwilling to point out that flaw.

The key point: “The cultures often grow to silence or downplay fatal flaws in the product, perhaps because it must be done to keep people marching along together.”

These groups each had a strong story of vision, one that connected members’ individual tasks to a collective output that they believed would create a meaningful, worthwhile change for the consumer. These engineers believed that - through their jobs - they were making a difference, that their work would improve consumers’ lives. This is a powerful emotion, and Craddock is right that it brought the members of each group together.

In fact, like all strong visions, these stories were part of the identities of the members of each group. The role of each person in creating a meaningful change became part of how each person defined him- or herself, and belonging within the group became more important than being an individual.

Expressing doubt in the vision would break this shared sense of self, and therefore these engineers suspended reality. It was more important to be part of the group than to recognize and admit an unspoken yet obvious truth.

The lesson here isn’t to be afraid of the power of vision, or concerned that it will lead your group astray. That’s part of your responsibility as a leader: to see the real world with clarity and to create a direction that is truthful. Sometimes that means doing things that aren’t expected or foretold, so a vision that seems unrealistic isn’t wrong. Not all products succeed, and some are just ahead of their time. Perhaps these three products will come back, in a new form and in a decade or two, and become consumer staples.

Rather, the lesson is to understand that vision can bring groups together in a way that creates something previously unobtainable. If you want greatness, you need a story of vision to bring human beings together and push them to excel. If you want to create something truly revolutionary, you’ll need a strong vision to bring out the innovative ideas and discretionary effort that changes reality.

To tell this story well, seek out the right words in the world and in the group, and tell all five factors throughout your daily activities. The foundation of shared vision leads naturally to the development of productive interchange and emotion relationships.

And yes, Craddock is right: encourage your people to examine their assumptions and question everything. Vision is powerful not because of the specifics, but because it brings people together. Shared vision includes challenging each other and finding new ways to do things. That’s the function of learning in action.

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