> Essays > Futures Fluency > Chapter Five: Defining Futures Fluency:
| Overview | Change | Critique | Scenarios | Visions | Planning | Summary


Envisioning the Preferred

The previous chapter on leadership made a strong case for the link between vision and extraordinary human achievement. Reaching our full potential requires goals that challenge us to exceed that potential. Unfortunately, in this most instrumental of ages,daydreaming is unfashionable. The education of the industrial era teaches us to keep our attention on the task at hand; the drive for upward mobility focusses our creativity on immediate problem-solving and practical matters of management. The age of deconstruction awards more points to critiques than to castles in the air.

Given these barriers, little wonder that people are uncomfortable with the verbs "vision," "fantasize," "dream." If not for the cases cited in recent management literature which underscore the utility of vision for motivating exemplary performance, it would be difficult to convince professionals to engage in visioning. Yet it is something humans do naturally, that in fact we must be trained not to do. Reinstating visioning as a powerful creative tool is simply re-balancing our internal environment: giving equal pride of place to intuition and fantasy next to logic and calculation. Visioning requires them all.

Visioning is an exercise in structured idealism. It means wrenching our "common sense"-ibilities away from the practical to indulge in daydreaming and wishlisting. It not only assumes that people can create the future, but also that a sufficiently inspiring vision of a preferred future motivates people to action. Most simply, it is an iterative brainstorming process, relying heavily on imagination, ideals, and intuition.

To begin, we state a handful of general characteristics for a preferred future: peace on earth, environmental stewardship, racial equality. These are too general to be useful building blocks; they must be refined into more precise statements.

Next, we perform an idealistic incasting on the staple components of social reality: in our preferred future, what form will nation-states take? government? what will community social structures be like? how will people be educated? how will work be structured? how will goods be produced, distributed, and consumed? The next step moves further into the realm of fantasy, by asking what the components of an individual's everyday reality look like: describe a typical day in this preferred future -- begin with waking up and getting out of bed, being sure to describe the bed and the bedding.

This exercise has two primary goals: one, to create a richly descriptive image of a preferred future; and two, to get beyond the imaginative constraints of a purely practical, "yes, but..." mindset. Many people find it difficult to let go of the problem-identifying and problem-solving perspectives that work ingrains in all of us. Often the best bridge to the ideal is a string of complaints: most people know what it is about the present they do NOT like. Consequently, the psychologically natural opening exercise for visioning is a problem-listing or "catharsis" stage, in which we list what we absolutely reject for our preferred future.

The statement of positive components can begin with restating the negatives as their opposites: if cultural intolerance is the hallmark of a negative future, the delight in cultural diversity may be a major component for our preferred future. Another way to shift to the positive is to identify our greatest recent successes, either individually or organizationally. This has the added benefit of reinforcing the belief that we can create change.

As Table 4 illustrates, individuals and groups may express their visions in many modes. A vision may be expressed as simply as a sentence: Henry V's, "No King of England unless King of France," or Kennedy's, "Within the next decade, the United States will land a man on the moon." These pocket visions, or vision icons, serve as snapshot reminders of the living reality of the long-term goal, keeping priorities clear and motivation high.

Table 4. Vision Components

catalyst/rallying cry
Fukoku Kyohei!1
Oregon Shines2
To be the standard for public service in America.3
individual: inspiration
(the vision)

what we want to achieve
Make Western nations acknowledge Japan as an equal.
Social and economic development of the State of Oregon.
Quality local government.
individual: inspiration;
facilitated process, delegated drafting


who we are, why we work, our values ...progressive public policy, superior public service, courteous public contact, ...and sound management (Pinellas Co.) facilitated process,
delegated drafting


what we will do,
when, how, and
with whom
White papers, policies, programs;
Oregon Shines (state vision/plan);
group process and individual initiative

1. The rallying cry for the Meiji era: Rich country, strong army! This expressed a vision of Japan's future in which they equalled the West in economic and military strength.
2. Oregon's state vision, which resulted from the Oregon 2020 project, and has resulted in the Oregon Benchmarks commission, as well as numerous participatory community visioning and planning projects.
3. Pinellas County, Florida: This vision statement and vision resulted as part of their efforts to institute total quality management throughout their county government; it has resulted in superb teamwork, performance, worker morale, and taxpayer savings.

Ideally, the vision scenario -- the scenario of a preferred future -- offers a rich inventory of the vision's identifying characteristics. We might use Fernand Braudel's approach to history as the exemplar: from daily manners, the niceties of table settings and other quotidian details, to the monumental, geologic differences that make that past scenario real for the participant in the present. Corporations, agencies, and organizations rarely have the luxury of investing the time necessary to elaborate a vision in great detail. Most examples of such extreme elaboration emerge from political utopianists -- although by far the best present-day example, and by far the most exhaustively discussed, augmented, and media-diverse vision of a preferred future is that of "Star Trek." The details of this vision are designed, deliberated, disputed, and delighted in by thousands of people all over the world daily via Internet, not to mention the video series, movies, animated cartoons, cartoon books, novels, short stories, technical manuals, and dictionaries of hypothetical alien languages. Every community should aspire to such richness of detail for its vision.

"Oregon Shines" is Oregon's capsule phrase for its state vision. Oregon's vision serves as the hub about which its state strategic planning process turns. The vision begins by affirming that Oregon cherishes its traditions, human resources, and environmental riches, and pledges to preserve and enhance these state treasures. From there, it elaborates:
Well-located industrial land would be available and competitively priced...Power would be plentiful and affordable. Water would be clean and abundant. The work force would be well-educated and productive. Our communities would boast excellent, affordable housing, efficient services, good schools and minimal congestion. Our buildings, bridges and roads would be well maintained. Our communities, streets and highways would be uncongested. Both east and west of the Cascades, our natural environment would remain unspoiled and accessible, offering year-round outdoor recreation.8

By itself, this is admirable, but something of a mom-and-apple-pie vision, akin to envisioning peace on earth. The trick is filling in the details to define what exactly they mean by "a well-educated work force" and "good schools." The vision expands to offer those day-to-day details:

At the Portland International Airport, one would hear visitors and Oregonians conversing in international languages... [This] would result from investments begun in the late 1980s -- ...increased attention to basic skills, problem solving, and foreign languages in our grade schools...Quality would be the hallmark in all phases of Oregon life.9

As the details of day-to-day life are added to the vision, they are carefully interwoven: in describing economic development which takes advantage of new industries and innovations and growing cultural diversity, the vision also discusses related vocational programs, retraining for older workers, and a new curriculum emphasis on cross-cultural sensitivity and foreign language training.

For each element of the vision, Oregon has stated a clear and measurable goal, with attendant strategies to reach that goal. These measurable goals, the Oregon Benchmarks, serve not only as the specific details of the vision, illuminating what the ideals mean in very concrete terms, but also as landmarks for planning, centering long-range strategies.

In the mission statement, the community committed to the vision articulates who they are and explains the source of their commitment to the vision: why is it a worthwhile act of creation for this particular group of people? How does it complement their definition of self? The Pinellas County Government mission statement reads in full:

Pinellas County Government is committed to progressive public policy, superior public service, courteous public contact, judicious exercise of authority and sound management of public resources, to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow.10

In order to excel within the framework of this self-definition, the Pinellas County Government declares, "We are working to be the standard for public service in America." This single sentence is their vision: it is the organizational best they wish to achieve, given the mission they have defined for themselves.

They elaborate the vision-mission link by articulating three criteria by which to judge strategies to achieve the vision:

To achieve this vision, we place the highest importance on:
The Quality of our Service;
Having our Customers Think Highly of us;
A sense of Commitment and Pride among us.11

Since July, 1991, this mission statement and vision have created an organizational culture within Pinellas County Government that is reflected in the enthusiasm, creativity, and energy of its employees. The Court Administrator of the Sixth Circuit Court was admiring the fine woodworking county construction staff were completing as part of renovating the courthouse. He asked the county employee why the work had not gone to an outside contractor. The employee told him that the county crew had bid against outside contractors, come in with a lower price, shorter time estimate, and higher technical specifications; he finished by adding, "we are, after all, all working to set the standard for public service in America."

With the vision and mission statement articulated, the plan then organizes the means the community has chosen to achieve the vision. Ideally, these are means that the community judges possible, productive, and appropriate in ethical or cultural terms. It also acts as the bridge between the practical present and the idealized future of the vision: it describes the timeline of achievements necessary to create the changes that build the vision. Planning achievement completes visioning, structures the revolution, calls the community to action, and reinforces the belief that what people imagine they can create -- so we should teach ourselves to imagine with skill, with care, with critical foresight, and with respect for diversity.

> Essays > Futures Fluency > Chapter Five: Defining Futures Fluency:
| Overview | Change | Critique | Scenarios | Visions | Planning | Summary

15 February 2003. Email IF.
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