In Zero To One, Peter Theil takes us into Facebook’s board meeting after Yahoo! offered to buy Facebook for $1 billion in July 2006. As everyone in the room sat down, anticipating a discussion around the offer, Mark Zuckerberg walks in and announces: “Okay, guys, this is just a formality, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. We’re obviously not going to sell here.” In the words of Peter Theil, “Mark saw where he could take the company, and Yahoo! didn’t. A business with a good definite plan will always be underrated in a world where people see the future as random.
Vision is one of the most critical pillars in business.
What is a vision? Types of entrepreneurs.
But what is vision? It’s often pitched as a vague horizon we work towards without really knowing exactly where we’re headed.
Further to his book, Peter Theil drives home his theory that there are four different types of entrepreneurs.
- The Indefinite Pessimist, who views the world as declining and looks out onto a bleak future, but doesn’t know if the enevitable decline will be “fast or slow, catastrophic or gradual”
- The Definite Pessimist, who “believes the future to be know, but since it will be bleak, they must prepare for it.
- The Definite Optimist who strongly believes the future will be better than today if they plan and work to make it better
- The Indefinite Optimist who believes in a better future, but doesn’t exactly know how
These entrepreneurial distinctions help us understand what we’re building towards and how we go about building it.
Steve Jobs is an example of someone who saw an optimistic future, but also one that he could play a part in shaping.
Now, it’s important not to neglect the creative and iterative process that comes with starting small and starting somewhere. This is still relevant. However, this framework for choosing what kind of approach the entrepreneur will have is exactly that; a choice. To choose to consciously envision what we're building towards. And it speaks to not only the vision you hold in your mind's eye but the confidence in which you grasp it.
Where the Indefinite Optimist thinks if only I chip away at my business good things will come to pass, the Definite Optimist thinks 'I can see a better future and my commitment is to do all I can to bring that into reality'.
This is the creative process, and a big part of business since business is a creative endeavour.
Business is creative because we take what is unseen—dreams and convictions, ambitions, ideas, values and skills—and bring them into reality by applying creativity. It’s a process that reveals the untapped potential of the world.
Having a vision for the future and understanding that there is actions to be taken in order to get there is at the heart of carrying a business forward. It reinforces confidence when facing challenges or even enticing opportunities.
A “Just Cause” — criteria for your vision
Simon Sinek gives us a checklist for what he calls a Just Cause - “a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist”
The vision must be:
- For something (not against something)—affirmative and optimistic
- Inclusive—open to all those who would like to contribute
- Service oriented—for the primary benefit of others
- Resilient—able to endure political, technological and cultural change
- Idealistic—big, bold and ultimately unachievable
I’ll narrow down on a few:
Service oriented means that as business owners we are contributing something. There’s the giver and the receiver. The receivers benefit from what the giver has to offer. Asking ourselves, who is the one that benefits from my vision gives us a way of orienting our vision towards service of others.
Inclusive is saying that if your vision is obtainable on your own, then you’re thinking too small. We are built for community and as those working together, we can achieve much greater things than when going it alone. The gift here is that the way we approach our goals, and the relationships we develop along the way ultimately bring about a great sense of fulfilment and meaning that’s even greater than the achievement found in reaching goals.
Which leads us to 'idealistic'. Sinek mentions “ultimately unachievable”. This is a hard one to swallow, because just a moment ago I was talking about concrete plans. What I believe idealistic means is that the current state of the world will be abrasive to your vision. There will be significant resistance in you achieving the future you desire, however that doesn’t mean no concrete steps can be made towards it. The reality of our human condition is that nothing is perfect, no matter how close we get. It’s ultimately unachievable to reach the status of perfection but that doesn’t mean we move the goalposts.
Finding your vision
This is where I draw on my third source of wisdom, Seth Godin. In his book “This is Marketing”, Godin claims, “you can’t be seen until you learn to see.” His premise is that in business you don’t create a product first and then find more people to buy it. This is an “industrialist/selfish” way of thinking.
He says, “The purpose of culture isn’t to enable capitalism… the purpose of capitalism is to build our culture”.
Vision ought to be centered around what we can bring to culture in an effort to contribute to its flourishing.
In a way, your vision is your long term service to culture.
What change do you seek to make?
What do you bring to the table?
Where is your passion?
In what people or community are you involved, and what do you have to contribute?
Who are these people and what are their goals? What are their challenges?
What do you already feel you are building towards?
Vision is specific because you can’t be everything to everyone. And once you choose your race, you are committing to run that race. This is a freedom awarded to those that choose to follow their own path. When “competition” comes along, you have a choice to ignore their short term achievements and keep striving towards your long term goal with a sense of calm and focus.
Craft your vision.
Take some time to begin crafting your vision.
It would be helpful to grab a piece of paper and a pen and scribble down your answers:
- Which area of culture is your business is placed?
- What are the current problems in the culture? These could be environmental, practical, people or philosophical problems.
- What kind of business would have to exist to solve those issues?
- What would the culture look like if those problems were solved?