When people envision a future for others around their own self-preservation, it never produces anything worthwhile. That is the reason why politics is a poor engine of national development. Quite often, professional managers and bureaucrats, when given the task of envisioning the future, first think of their personal interest – the need for self-preservation. That becomes the constant amid all variables.
If the chairman of a business gives precedence to his own continuity over growth, the latter will remain hostage within the borders of his incompetence. The key, therefore, is to create a vision that does not worry about the future of the leader. Having said that, we need to understand the relationship between ‘great vision’ and size.
A few years back, the World Economic Forum gleaned lessons from well-run businesses that governments could learn from. While doing so, it felt that corporations that have made great progress invariably set up ‘hairy, audacious goals’. There is a direct link between great progress and the size of a vision. People do not get enthused by an invitation to climb an anthill. In every person is an innate desire to climb a mountain. Leaders who can stir that need can rally people around.
Not only does a great vision concern itself with ‘hairy, audacious goals’, it invariably has the leader both involved and committed. That is very different from armchair envisioning.
It takes away the myth that in any act of significant consequence, there can be someone who has the vision, but remains detached from the struggle. And that it is someone else’s job to deliver the revolution.
The other interesting thing about vision is the need for articulation in the simplest of words. Leaders often choose lofty words that can potentially mean different things to different people. Yet, Gandhi’s concept of ‘peaceful resistance’ was immediately understood both by the Eton-educated Nehru and the illiterate indigo growers of Bihar. Jack Welch talked to his people about ‘speed, simplicity and self-confidence’ – words that the smallest man in a GE plant anywhere in the world understood. The simpler the articulation, the higher is the life of the idea behind it. That is why folk tales live for thousands of years and corporate managers cannot remember vision statements the day after an evangelical session.
Great vision is invariably born in difficult times. Such hard times often shroud a higher future – the way to uncover that future is to engage the power of vision. The film, The Ten Commandments, gives us a fascinating account of how the army of Moses – tortured and starved by the Pharaoh – survived plague and marched hungry across a burning desert to finally reach the promised land. Those who have seen the account of William Wallace in Braveheart would recall that the burning desire for freedom consumed the ill-clad Scottish army of rag-tag men amid mayhem by the ruling English, who took away every bride after her wedding for a night, in exchange for peace in the Scottish villages.
Even Gandhi’s inner call against racial discrimination and, ultimately, the dream for a free India was kindled when a ‘white’ ticket collector in South Africa threw him off a running train. The Japanese quest for world-class quality started when a war-battered group of businessmen met Edward Deming to seek knowledge on how to create something that the world would agree to buy! Before the great economic run of the current century started, India stood at the doors of the IMF with the humiliating possibility of a loan default. People who build great organisations and institutions spring back from moments of great difficulty that often hold the seed of a great idea, and resolve to push it through. Fundamental to the great idea is the concept of inclusion. More on that, in the next issue.