I am writing to you from the comfort of my own office, where I am running my own business for a month now... Who would have thought that being my own boss would be so enjoyable? Beyond the obvious perks of being master of my own domain, I am really pleased to have joined the ranks of the so-called entrepreneurial class. I share an office space with a bunch of like-minded people, all trying to break through in their respective markets... We're all probably chasing the wrong goose, looking at fee for time models rather than product based business models that could make us rich overnight (right?) but it's a first step in the right direction...
I find myself here today, rekindling the flame with my blog, the platform for my own ideas, to talk about the visioning process. Although an important part of my offer to the market as an Independent Strategy Director, visioning large transformation projects, with built and unbuilt components, is not the only thing I do. It is, however, what a lot of my clients know me for and refer me for.
Visioning can be an absolute waste of time if not built around the right objectives. The process of distilling a vision that is unique, that gets a team excited and that is communicable to the outside world is more than an exercise in wordsmithing. In actual fact, its value lies in almost everything but the actual words. Let me explain this in more detail.
Visioning creates context
As it happens, a lot of the visioning work I have been blessed to take on over the years has been in the cultural sector. It's delightful, inspiring and often an optimistic sector to be involved with, and ultimately, something I am very invested in personally. We will continue to differentiate and create a voice for our cities through the kind of culture we nurture and promote. Sydney has been on a trajectory of exponential growth in this sector, and in the process, has built a lot of confidence around its international and national brand.
When I work with these types of clients (and others), a massive renewal project is often on the cards but the context for the the proposed renewal is often implicit and therefore not clearly articulated. Why does context matter so much you ask? Well, understanding and designing a context is the first skill of a leader and/or leadership team. As my good friend and mentor Steve Lennon would say, context creation is the creation of meaning.
Through the visioning process, we are actually defining the reasons why a particular project matters, what its objectives are. But more importantly, we are taking the time to frame the right question for the project. Are we really trying to increase the number of bums on seats? Or are we trying to create an experience that will create demand? Are we trying to get more content, wherever it is from? Or are we trying to promote homegrown content?
Visioning as alignment
Often, the undocumented and unspoken outcome of a visioning process is the alignment and buy-in from stakeholders. When running the workshops, interviews and other interactions that can form part of the process of creating a vision, there are other important cues to look out for. These, more often than not, relate to the culture of the organisation leading the change and the symbols, systems and values that the culture favours. There is often a quite obvious subtext to be gleaned from this process that can deliver real insight into the team's motivation and ability to deliver something truly groundbreaking.
Being able to read the subtext is also part of the skill of an experienced visioning facilitator and consultant. Once these dynamics are revealed, there may be many different strategies to adopt to do away with prejudices and impact behaviours. So visioning can be a really important team building exercise and can help identify the levers that can help build a high performing team around a common goal.
Visioning as differentiation
How many times have you heard that a project will strive for excellence, be inclusive, sustainable and for everyone under the sun? The reality is that many visioning processes are mistaken for a process of chunking up the truths that underpin a project. It can be a process where one loses specificity rather than gains it and can therefore end up being quite generalist and unsatisfying.
Part of the role that I adopt when I do this quite of work, is the role of the disruptor. The questions I ask can be a little uncomfortable: how is this statement any different from any other mixed use project in Sydney? What competitive edge are you putting forward to the market? How will that resonate with your audiences?
As a project creator and sponsor, a client can often have quite a pronounced bias towards the value of a project, because of their closeness to it and the personal investment that has gone into it. However, this bias can sometimes obscure the obvious barriers to a project or the weaknesses inherent in the value proposition. Visioning must be about being specific, about refining the value proposition rather than making it everything to everyone...
Testing the vision for engagement
Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to collaborate with a number of clients looking to put a unique proposition to the market. One of the lessons I learnt early on was the value that lies within having the courage to test a beta version of a vision with key stakeholders and audiences. The testing process is a good way to float the concept and get a feel for the support or opposition it may create. But it is also a process of showing a vulnerability, of showing that you don't hold all the answers and that you are willing to engage in a process of co-creation (to a certain extent).
Where this has been done very successfully is at the Arts Centre Christchurch, where the vision that I supported the Board and the CEO to develop was tested and discussed with the community. This creates acceptance and discussion within your target audience, which is a priceless outcome.
Other projects I have worked on have included: Walsh Bay Arts Precinct Vision (Arts NSW), Gold Coast Cultural Precinct Vision (Gold Coast City Council), Darling Square Place Strategy (Lend Lease), North Wharf Vision (Lend Lease) and Tonsley Park (DMITRE). Feel free to get in touch to discuss what a vision means for you and your team.