Vision – Paradox, Metaphors, and Focus!

We are in an age of paradox – the mind boggling reality where both sides of an ‘issue’ – the mutually exclusive and diametrically opposed points of view – are true, at the same time. Vision is a paradox in the sense of diverging from reality and converging at the same time. In creating a vision we diverge to see well beyond today to a view of the future. In creating a vision we also converge on today’s reality to focus intellect and action.

Creating a vision involves using images and metaphors to ‘paint a picture’ of the future and to articulate and communicate that picture to others in a manner that is ‘compelling.’ Metaphors, images and ‘pictures’ aid understanding in stimulating intellectual comprehension based on experience relative to the image, and also in evoking a sensory response associated with that experience.

The use of a metaphor such as ‘rodent’ or ‘pig’ to describe an individual conveys a much more ‘evocative’ picture as opposed to a description of behaviour in precise and ‘objective’ terms. The understanding derived however, reflects the paradox of vision in that the literal details such as four legs, tail, furry body, and animal habitat are consciously excluded and disregarded. Images that are common to experience can be very effective in communicating a clear and compelling understanding of the important themes and principles. Images that are uncommon or limited in terms of the experience of others cannot be as effective. ‘Rodent’ and ‘pig’ can evoke simple and clear understandings. “We will be number one” on the other hand conveys very little to individuals who have not experienced that reality. “We will become customer focused” similarly holds little value to an employee who has not experienced what that looks like and feels like. Visions and images are paradoxes; their effectiveness lies in their simplicity and clarity.

Effective images or visions go beyond comprehension to a deeper understanding of the real and imagined experience of the picture. Effective images do create a virtual reality with personal alignment and involvement to ‘live’ in the image in real time. An example of a very ‘empowering’ metaphor is described by Gareth Morgan in ‘Imaginization.’ A major change effort for an organization can be described as ‘rebuilding our house while still continuing to live within it.’ Using this metaphor the ‘leader’ can communicate very powerful images to guide behaviour such as:

  • This change is not just a renovation but a complete rebuilding in which everything will eventually be changed;
  • The need to identify the ‘bearing walls’ of the business to ensure these are not knocked out too early to risk damaging the business;
  • The need to check existing supports as they go along and strategically plan the structural walls needed for the future;
  • A need for ‘cautious demolition’ and simultaneous building at the same time, working with a common and clear set of goals and purpose.

Vision lives in the paradox!

The vision is effective in assisting individuals find meaning and useful reference points for guidance within an environment of significant change and disruption. The vision disconnects the ‘roots’ to today and reconnects to a clearer view of the future and how it will unfold. The metaphor helps individuals cope with the discomfort and risks of their current situation while looking forward to the new ‘reality’ they will eventually create. The effective vision ‘lives’ in the paradox to provide leadership and guide supportive action to achieve the desired results and cope with the unknown.

Creating an effective vision:

  • A clear and compelling image of the future to inspire, create followership, and guide action and decision making;
  • An evocative set of images to engage the hearts and minds of individuals to guide them in their best efforts to make it a reality;
  • A view of the future through clear images and simple and common metaphors;
  • Articulating, communicating, and ‘painting pictures’ that others can relate to their experience;
  • Stimulating understanding of the salient features relative to their intellectual and emotional experience;
  • Inviting and engaging a personal alignment through connecting and living within the image and today’s reality at the same time, and giving permission to act in alignment with it;
  • Providing focus in seeing beyond what is today first to what can be, then to what should be, and ultimately to what must be.

Gareth Morgan is quoted from: Imaginization, The Art of Creative Management, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, 1993.