Building a vision – A practical guide
Leif-Runar Forsth and Bodil Nordvik
Vision building is as old and natural as man himself. Vision building has become an effective mean for individuals and organizations to set and achieve goals. A practical step by step guide to building a vision is presented. This is made for building visions in groups and organizations, but most of the steps may also be used for individual visions.
1 Visions – natural and effective
1.1 Visions from time immemorial
For as long as we have knowledge from man, man has used visions as an important tool in their daily life. The oldest records of vision building are the cave paintings that are thought to have been used as hunting magic. According to Jung (1964): “By its symbolic slaughter, the hunters attempt to anticipate and ensure the death of the real animal. What happens to the picture will happen to the original.”
The visions were not limited to picture representation. Examples are hunting dances and other hunting rituals. By simulating the hunting and the capture of the pray, the reality is also thought to become true. Visions have also been extensively used in fertility rites.
The use of movements and sound together with pictures shows that they had an advanced understanding of the use of visions. Pictures are being transported to the visual part of the brain while movements and sounds go to other parts. Thus, the vision became more effective by connecting it to several different senses.
A vision is also a wish of what we want to happen. In many traditions it is believed that just by making a wish, the wish may come true. Examples of this are many kinds of greetings that contain a wish of well-being. Daydreaming is an excellent form of visionalizing.
The human brain is specially made for using visions. Children (and grown ups) learn by looking at others and imitating what they are doing. They do the imitations also later, when they are not able to see the role model. An example is a child that imitates a great football player. He makes his vision of a great football player by the help of the role model. Children naturally do the next step. When playing football with their mates, they “are” their role model. This means that they try to make the vision real by pretending that it is real. Children also naturally draw their visions. If a boy wants to be a fighter pilot, he often makes drawings of a lot of fighter plains.
Visions are today extensively used for business purposes, see e.g. Chan and Justis (1991), El-Namaki (1992), MacQueen and Vicere (1987) and Waddell (1992). Parker (1990), Saxberg (1993), Uehara (1992).
1.2 Activate more of the brain
We use the word vision for the total representation of the wanted state. This means that we include description of the state by pictures, words, sound, feelings and in all other possible ways. Some people use the word imagery for this total vision.
Our definition agrees with the purpose of the vision-making and the ways we are doing it. By activating more senses and by representing the vision in several different ways, we activate more parts of the brain. This means that we get a better understanding of the vision and also that it is better anchored in our brain. It also means that the vision is in better agreement with the reality that it is meant to bring. The wanted situation is usually experienced with more senses than just seeing. Modern methods of building visions are based on the same principles that are used in previous times and naturally by children.
The methods use the following steps:
– Creating a vision that fits ourselves and what we want to achieve.
– Working with the vision until it becomes more effective and applicable as a vision.
– Finding ways to make the vision come real.
1.3 Making the winning organization
The greatest achievements in history are made by people who have had a strong vision. Visions may be very strong tools for achieving other goals. President Robert F. Kennedy made a vision “man on the moon.” This was a strong inspiration for the American space program.
Political and religious movements are often based of visions of a new and better world. Visions that are shared by many people are one of the strongest human forces known.
A good vision is necessary for an organization to become a winning organization. The vision must be shared by most of the members of the organization. It is in principle two different ways of doing this. The first is that the leaders of the organization create their own vision. With this vision they communicate to the others so clearly that it becomes their vision too. For this to be possible, the vision has to be based on and contain the basic values of the other members of the organization. This may be a very good way to make a vision for an organization.
An easier and even better way is to let all or most of the members of the organization develop their own vision together. A method for this is described in this article.
1.4 A practical step by step guide
In this article we describe a practical step by step guide to building a good vision for an organization. We and our colleagues have used this method, directly or in a modified form, for vision building in about ten years. More than three thousand persons from thirty to forty different nationalities have participated in such vision building.
We describe each step in the process one by one. The method is primarily used for building visions in organizations, but most of the steps may also be used for building individual visions. Some steps are described by the actual commands we give as coaches/facilitators when guiding a group through the process.
The method is flexible. Several of the steps may be replaced by other methods or techniques according to the qualifications and the experiences of the facilitator. In practical applications we sometimes change the successions of the steps. In short and fast vision building processes, we sometimes skip some steps. This we will comment at the end of the article.
You may also use some of the steps alone. E.g. you may build a vision by daydreaming or other methods, and work with the vision as described here.
2 Tools for vision building
In principle (and usually also in practice) you may use all the techniques and methods you are comfortable with in the different steps of the described method. This section will describe some tools we use when we are facilitating vision building processes.
2.1 Creating mental states
The brain functions differently according to what mental state it is in. You will get different visions with a happy, relaxed state of mind than with anger or frustration. To make the vision as strong as possible, it should be experienced with as many states of mind as possible.
What state of mind that are most fit for the vision building, depend on the vision to be build and the purpose of the vision. The state of mind for building an effective vision for fighting a battle is different from the state of mind best fitted for building the vision for your next meeting with your loved one.
For building a vision for a good functioning organization, the state of mind should, in the basic vision building, be relaxed and good humoured.
You may use any method you are comfortable with to bring people to the appropriate state of mind. If you are familiar with methods to bringing people into states where they produce alfa-brain waves, this may be favourable used when people are preparing for making their individual version of the vision in our step 2. They may also be used when the total vision is made to strengthen the vision for each individual.
If you are not familiar with those kinds of techniques, the procedure described in this article, will also be sufficient.
2.2 A picture language
The most important tool in our method is the picture language. This was originally developed by Babin et al. (1972) and Belisle and Baptiste (1978), (1979) and (1980) for communication between people with different languages. They developed a photo language that consists of several different picture series. These series for picture language may be used also in other communication situations than building visions. You may, as a start, use some series of Baptiste et al.
You may also build your own picture language. We have built series of postcards for this purpose. Small sizes like postcards, are advantage because you then can have many pictures on the same area. They also give a faster change from picture to picture when the participants look at the pictures.
We also have series with pictures about twice this size. The advantage is that these can easy be seen on a longer distance. We have no statistical significant results that prove the advantages of the one size compared to the other. Our choice in an actual situation is therefore more based on personal taste.
The number of pictures used in the process depends on the number of participants. Our experience is that you should use at least fifty pictures, but no more than two hundred in the same process. It should at least be twice as many pictures as the number the participants are allowed to choose (this is described in step 3).
The best thing to do is to build your own series of pictures. By choosing the pictures yourself and using them for yourself and as a facilitator, you get a better understanding and feeling of those pictures as elements of a language. The following advices should be observed when making your series of pictures: Choose only pictures that give a good feeling. Pictures may communicate very strongly and to the subconscious part of the mind and should be used with care. You will probably sometimes experience strange reactions from participants when you build visions. It is safer and more easy for you if you use pictures that mostly give good feelings. Other kinds of pictures may be used very effectively, but the reactions may be more difficult to handle. You will probably experience that negative reactions also can come for the pictures you have chosen to give a good feeling. At least, you reduce the possibility for such reactions.
About 25% of the pictures used in a session, should be directly related to the kind of vision to be built. This means that they should show the pictures that directly or symbolic, may represent the whole or parts of the vision. Examples are people doing all kinds of things together. This can be working together, playing, sporting or any other kind of human social conduct. Pictures of animals, trees or flowers may also symbolize an organization. Many abstract art can also express this.
Another 25% of the pictures should be connected to the possible vision in one way or another. If a vision contains courage, happiness, stability, change or creativity, we should have pictures that give the possibility to express these things.
Another 25% of the pictures should be stimulating pictures. Of course all pictures are stimulating, but some are chosen just for this purpose. These may be very strange pictures, pictures with strong or special forms or colours, funny pictures or whatever you find stimulating.
The last 25% of the pictures should just be nice pictures. This means any kind of picture that you find nice to look at.
This guide should not be taken too seriously. It is more rule of thumbs than exact guidelines.
We use both photographs and art. Our experience is that art, both old and modern, may be very effective as a picture language for communication in vision building and other communication situations.
To become familiar with the pictures, you should practice with them for your own communication. This practice you can carry out alone. You can choose anything you want to communicate. For example to tell who you are in different parts of your life and choose which pictures you find that describe this. Almost anything that can be described by words, can also be described by help of pictures.
After you have built your own series of pictures, you may need some help from others to make a second choice. The important part they may play, is to take away those pictures that give them feelings that are not experienced as good.
Do not bother too much to try to find pictures to symbolize special things. To some extent you will succeed in that, but you will also experience that the one and same picture may symbolize many different things to different persons and in different situations. Because of this, we have found abstract art to be very useful in symbolizing many different things.
The actual use of the pictures as a picture language in vision building is described in step 3 and the following steps.
2.3 Creative problem solving
A vision may be very useful by itself. It is by itself a complete goal to give us direction and to inspire us. The process of building the vision also clarifies our thoughts and gives insight and reflection. It can be most useful as a group building process.
Sometimes the vision itself is sufficient to put us on the way to making the vision real. Often we may achieve more by systematically finding ways to making the vision into reality. So called creative problem solving methods may be useful for this. We often use CPS or a modified version of CPS. Any other methods that you are familiar with and you can facilitate with the kind of problems and groups you are working with, may be used.
The first step is to specify the vision and then the present situation. The problem to be solved with the creative problem solving method is to find ways to go from the present situation to the fulfilment of the vision.
2.4 Other methods and techniques
In principle you may use any methods and techniques that you are familiar with and that you find applicable for the group and the actual problems. The most important besides those previously mentioned, are to be able to create a good climate in a group and to take people into appropriate states of mind.
Any kind of relaxation technique may be used. If you are able to use techniques that put people into deep relaxation, guided fantasy tours or alfa-wave brain patters, that may be useful. It is not necessary. The instructions and methods as described in this article will be sufficient to help a good vision building process. Other tools may add something to this and may make it more easy to do some parts. On the other hand, it is not always advisable to use as advanced methods as possible. That depends on the group. Not all people are willing to participate in all kinds of fancy processes and it may create suspicion or anxiety. Thus, the most plain and simple method is sometimes the best.
Methods of creating a good climate in a group are also useful. It is not necessary that you know a number of such methods. It is necessary that you can handle a group so you can create a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.
Many other methods may be useful. Once the vision is created, a lot of things have to be done. In an organization, we usually have to do a lot of things before the vision can be fulfilled. Methods for team building, planning etc. may therefore be useful. The tool of vision building will have its full strength only when used with other ways of developing the organization. This is beyond the scope of this article. The method of vision building described in this article is a complete method that can stand on its own feet.
3 A guided step by step process
Step 1: Preparation
Before you start to build the vision, you have to know what kind of vision you are going to build. The methods as described in this article, may be used for most kind of visions, for groups and organizations. Just by applying it in a standard form, give good results.
The process will be better if it is tailor-made to the vision to be built. This is because the vision becomes stronger and more effective the more it is fitted to the individuals and the group.
In most cases we build visions for companies and other organizations. The purpose of the vision is to create a better goal and better use of the human potential in the organization. The basic vision of different kinds of organizations, are usually very similar. Most people want the same things at a more basic general level. At work we want to have colleagues that we can trust and that like us, material and personal safety, inspiration etc.
There are also differences depending on what the organization is doing. A high-tech company that continually has to develop its products to keep the market, will get a different vision than a hospital. In the first case qualities as creativity, flexibility and aggression may be useful. In the other case, tenderness, care and understanding of other people may be more important.
When choosing the pictures to use for the vision building, this should be considered. This means that several pictures should be fitted to express such kinds of values or capabilities. You should use some pictures that express this directly and some that may express it more indirectly, for example by an analogy. Pictures of people jumping in parachutes, doing winter skiing or water skiing, may be used to express courage and action. A child’s caring for a kitten or a puppy, may express closeness, caring and love.
You may put the pictures on the floor. Then you should put them close to the wall so it is difficult to step on them. It is preferable for the process, to make it easier for the participants to look close at the pictures, to place them on tables.
If you are building a vision in an existing organization, you should prepare yourself and the managers of the organization, or the specific group, that when participating in a vision building, many things may happen. The vision building itself, usually creates no problems. However, problems may appear when you are taking the process into “how to come from the real situation of today? to the vision”. In this part of the process many problems may be exposed. The vision is an ideal situation that we want. Once we have described this situation, we also more clearly see the things in our situation that are not the way we want them to be. This in turn may make it much more clear what the problems really are and the reasons for the problems. If the vision building process is done in a proper way, the participants are really engaged in the process and in the vision they have built. Many feelings may then be stirred up, considering the things they are not satisfied with in the present situation. Very often some of these things are closely connected to the leaders and managers of the organization or a particular group in the organization. They should therefore be prepared for such situations so it will not come as a shock.
Vision building should not be applied as a method to dissect an organization and to find all the things that are not the way they should be. The vision building should be kept in a state of good mood. So, even if it is a very strong tool for doing such exposure, it should not be used for that. Such things may come up even if we do not want them to. It is not any disadvantage. Instead of concentrating on the problems we then concentrate on the possibilities. As a facilitator you then give instructions to concentrate on and find ways to make the vision come real, including solving the problems.
Before we proceed to step 2, arrange the participants in small groups. Usually we use groups of four to five members. The minimum size we have used is two and maximum for a small group is seven. The groups should be arranged before or at the beginning of step 2. It is important that the members of the group sit symmetrically so that everyone has the same position in relation to the others. This means that we sit in a circle. There must be sufficient space in the middle to place the pictures. The participants sit on chairs and place the pictures on the floor between them. In this way they have to bend forward to place and work with the pictures. This brings the participants physically more closely together, literally they put their heads together, and therefore also mentally closer.
Step 2: Connect to memories and states of minds/moods
On the surface a vision is a description of our wanted future situation. More basically it is an expression of our deeper, inner feelings, beliefs and hopes. A good vision agrees with our deepest values and beliefs, even if those are not explicitly expressed while building the vision or in the vision itself.
A good vision is also an accumulation of previous experiences. When we are finding what we want to be, we always have to base this on our previous experiences. In a way we can say that a vision is a picture created by fragments from our previous life. It may also contain things we have not experienced ourselves, but things we have wanted to experience. A very important part of these previous experiences is the moods or state of minds connected to these.
We may have had a playmate when we were six years old with whom we played very well together with. Of course we usually do not want to play in the same way when we are grown ups and working in our company. But some of the closeness, inspiration and friendship, and the result of the playing, we want to experience in our working relationship in our adult lives. The most important parts of this are the moods, states of minds and feelings that we connect to these experiences. A vision, or the reality created by the vision, is a way of creating these same feelings, states of minds and moods.
The important thing is therefore to connect the vision to those kinds of memories. We start this by refreshing those kinds of memories before we go on to the next step in the vision building. We shall now describe this by the instructions we may give in this step of the process. We may say like this:
Sit relaxed in your chair. Straighten your back and hold your head straight. Let the body be symmetrical. Do not cross your legs or your arms. Rest your feet on the floor. You may have your eyes open, but it is better to have them closed. Breathe deeply. Feel that your chest participates in the breathing. Just relax and feel good.
Try to remember something you have experienced as a child or a youth. Experience something that you like and feel good about. Maybe you remember some situations when you have done things together with other people. Or situations where you have done things for yourself. Try to sit and remember these things and enjoying these experiences. If it comes up some experiences that you do not like, go to another experience or change the unwanted experience to the way you want it to be.
Just sit and relax and experience this and have a good time.
Slowly start to come back to this room. Open your eyes and listen to me. Do not speak because you are now going to look at some pictures.
The important part of this session is to create a relaxed and good mood. And to refresh the memories, experiences and the states of minds, and feelings and moods connected to these. In this way the vision we are building, will be more deeply anchored in our previous experiences, our feelings and basic values.
You may also use other methods to achieve these things.
The deep breathing part is important to create a better relaxation. It also influences the way the brain works. Deep breathing with the stomach, makes it more easy to get in touch with our feelings. Deep breathing with the chest, makes it more easy to create pictures in our brain. The symmetry of the body also influences the function of the brain. Crossing the legs or the arms are in a way physical closing up. To open up the crossings are in a physical way opening our body. This may also open our minds more. Posturing of the body may in different ways influence the thinking and the feelings. This is beyond the scope of this article. The instructions given in the guiding above, are sufficient.
You may explain some of these things for the participants before you start the session in step 2. You may also explain some of these things in the first part of the instructions. For example like this:
Breathe deeply. Put your hand on your stomach and feel that it moves freely when you breathe. Deep breathing with your stomach makes it easier for you to be in touch with your feelings. Then put your hand on your chest. Feel that your chest moves when you breathe deeply. Breathing deeply with your chest makes it more easy to see pictures inside you.
At this part of the process you should behave and talk softly and nicely. You should behave firmly and with authority. It is important that the participants do not start to talk or doing a lot of things at the transition to the next step.
The pictures should be laid out before you start your instructions with the people sitting. It can be very disturbing with noises during this process.
Step 3: Building the basic individual vision
We will also explain step 3 by the instructions we may give:
Now we are going to look at some pictures that we have placed on the tables. It is very important that you follow my instruction. It is not important if you do not understand my instruction completely, just try to do your best. I will repeat the most important parts, and if I see that some of you are doing it in a way it should not be done, I will also repeat the instructions. So, just relax and enjoy the experience.
The most important thing is that you should not talk. We are now going to enter the picture part of the brain. This is another part of the brain than those used when thinking in words and making words, speaking words and listening to words. If you talk, you will disturb the picture part of your brain in its process. And even more, you will disturb the process for the other participants. They will activate quite other parts of the brain if they have to listen to words.
I have to talk to give the instructions. Preferably I would have liked to give them by telepathy, but since I am not capable of doing that, I have to talk.
Get up, without saying anything, go to the tables with the pictures and start to look at them. Just walk back and forth, around each other and look at the pictures. Take your time, move around, look at the pictures and enjoy them. Look one or two seconds at each picture.
After the participants have looked at all or most of the pictures, you give them the next instruction. To know when to do that, you should notice one, two or three of the participants and notice when they have seen most of the pictures. It is not important that all the participants have seen all the pictures before we go to the next step. If someone has seen all the pictures and stopped looking, you give instructions like these:
If you have seen all the pictures, take another round and look at them again. One or two seconds at each picture. Try to experience and live yourself into the pictures.
We then go to the next step in the instructions:
Continue to look at the pictures. Try to see which of the pictures are telling you something about the way you want it to be in your company. Look at each picture and see what it really says about this. Again look one or two seconds at each picture and see what it tells you.
Again, after the participants have looked at all the pictures for some time, you go on to the next instruction.
Continue to look at the pictures. Do not touch the pictures, but try to find which of the pictures that best describe the way you want it to be in your organization.
When the participants again have looked at most of the pictures, you give instructions like these:
Pick two or three pictures that best describes the way you want it to be in your organization. If anyone else has taken your picture, choose another one. There are several pictures which express about the same thing.
After some people have found the pictures they have chosen, you give the instructions:
Sit on your chair. Look at the pictures you have chosen. What more do these pictures tell you? Every picture says a lot more. What more do your pictures tell you about how you want it to be in your organization?
The point in the process when some of the people are sitting down on their chairs, is usually the time when talking most often starts. It may also start when the participants begin to pick the pictures. Do not be too hard on them in this moment, just in a soft and nice voice give the instructions once more; look at the pictures and do not talk when you do that.
Very often most of the participants have chosen their pictures, while some are still walking around, looking at the pictures. This cannot go on for too long. Give instructions like these:
You that have chosen the pictures, continue to look at them and see what more they say. Every picture says a lot of things. You that have not yet chosen the pictures, please do it now. It is not very important that you choose the correct picture, just choose anyone that come to your mind.
In some cases, someone does not pick the pictures even now. Then you walk close to this person and tell him/her calmly and softly, caring but with authority, that they must now choose some pictures, anyone they like, so that we can go on with the process.
The important thing in this step is that people should not talk. It does not spoil the process if it is some small talking. If there is much talking the process will not have as strong impact as it can.
Another thing that often happens is that people are queuing up when looking at the pictures. If people are too much concentrated on the person before or behind them in the queue, they will nor have their full concentration on the pictures. The pictures are in such a way that the participants will stop and look for a little bit longer at some pictures and shorter at the others, depending on the impression from the pictures. This part of the process can be much disturbed if we concentrate on the other persons. Just give instructions that they should walk freely around if necessary. Go close to the people who are queueing and tell them to avoid this, pointing around where they can start walking. One way of avoiding this, is to place the pictures on several small tables so the participants have to walk a little bit here and there. One big table makes it more easy to queue up.
Sometimes we do the process described in step 2 and 3 in a simpler way. The minimum way of doing step 2 and 3 is as follows:
– Do the preparation by a group discussion or another process that brings up the memories of situations they like and that fits for the vision to be built.
– Let them walk around and look at the pictures for some time
– Let them then choose the pictures and sit down
This may bring up the required memories, but it will not give as strong connection to the deeper feelings, emotions and values. Observed at the surface, the vision building process may seem to proceed as good. Experiences show however that the effect of the vision building and the vision itself, increase by our process. By anchoring the vision properly to the vision holders, as here with connecting to previous experiences, feelings, moods, states of minds and values, the vision will be more fitted and be more important for the vision holder. This will also give a higher motivation to make the vision become a reality.
Step 4: Building the small group vision
This step is to build a vision for a small group. The most important thing to notice in this step is that every picture should be treated with respect. It is not allowed to throw the pictures around, neither the picture of oneself nor the others. It is not allowed to criticise or say negative things about the pictures of oneself or the others.
The step is again described by an example of the instructions that may be given.
We are now going to build a vision with our pictures. It is very important that you treat the pictures, your own and the others, with respect. These pictures are no longer only pictures. They are expressions of opinions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs of yourself and other persons. They are also a part of the vision.
Proceed in the following way: Each person tells the others in the group what the pictures mean to him or her. Show the pictures and place them on the floor between you. Do not step on the pictures. One person speaks and the others just listen without any comments. Do not describe the pictures in too many words, try to describe shortly what the pictures mean to you. The meaning of the pictures is what each person makes it to be. When one person tells the others what the pictures mean, we are not going to have other opinions of the meaning of the pictures. Later, another person may use the pictures to express another meaning. He may use this meaning as a part of the way he wants the vision to be.
When everyone has told the others about the pictures, we start building the small group vision. This should be made by five pictures put in a special way in relationship to each other. Each picture shall express one or more aspect of the vision. The meaning is what the one who speaks about the picture puts into it. This is his or hers contribution to the vision. Another person can put more things into it as his or hers contribution to the vision.
The way the pictures are placed in relationship to each other should be given its special meaning. You can yourself choose in what way you should put them and the meaning of this. If you choose to put them in a circle, you should give your interpretation of what it means when the pictures relate to each other in a circle. If you put them in a line, you should also make interpretation of what this means.
Remember to treat every picture with respect. Every picture should be treated as a part of the person that brings this picture into our group. The picture is this person’s contribution to the vision, and should be accepted as that. As a part of this, it is not allowed to talk against a picture. It is not allowed to argue against other persons pictures or their suggestions to the vision. If you want another picture or the vision to be in another way, argue for that. The rule is then to argue for your pictures and your opinions and how the pictures should be, not against the other pictures.
To sum it up: You shall now build a common vision for the small group consisting of five pictures put together in the special way that you yourself choose.
The small group vision should consist of three to five pictures. As a facilitator you choose the number yourself. The number should be chosen so that it is not possible for the participants in the group to participate with the same number of pictures to the small group vision. If there are three persons in the group, then the small group vision should not be built with only three pictures, but with four or five. If it is five persons in the group, the small group vision should be built with three or four pictures. We try to have a nice and non-confronting discussion, but we should not make it too easy to agree. Using a number of pictures that prohibit the participants to make an equal contribution of pictures, increase the possibility of a real discussion of what pictures should be chosen for the vision.
When the small groups have built their visions, we go to the next phase of step 4. We describe this in the instructions given. The instructions are now given to each group separately. This means that the facilitator goes into each group. We usually bend down to be at the level of the participants sitting, and in a way to show that we are on their side. We try to take some of the seriousness away, and make the next step into a kind of joyful competition. The instructions may be given like this:
We have now built the vision of this small group. In the next step we are going to make a vision for the total group. We will do this in the similar way that we made our small group vision. Of course, the vision built by our small group is the best one. If the other groups are wise, they will accept our vision as the vision for the total group. We cannot be quite sure that they will understand this immediately. Maybe they will even think that the vision they have built is the best one.
Because of this, you have to prepare the presentation of your vision to the other groups. You have to present it so that you convince the others that this is the best vision for our organization. You also have to prepare some arguments if they will not accept this immediately. Remember, you will not be allowed to argue against the other groups visions, only for your own vision.
Prepare your presentation, what you are going to say and who is going to say it. The vision can be presented by one person in the group or all of you. You choose yourself.
The problem in step 4 is that the small groups do not finish at the same time. Therefore, you have to do some coaching during the process. Be careful to see that this is done in a soft and comforting way, even if it sometimes has to be done firmly too. Be observant that some persons use a very long time when they talk about their pictures. Often the reason for this, is that they do not only present the pictures, they also give a long explanation for why they have chosen these pictures. They maybe even explain this with examples from their previous experiences. Tell them then to give a short presentation just of what the pictures mean to them. If they want to explain more, this should also be short, so that everyone is allowed to speak.
If a group uses longer time than the others to build a vision, you may tell this group or all the groups that they get one (or two or three) more minutes to finish building on the vision. Often they will not finish even then. Then you again give them maybe two more minutes. The second or third time you give this, should be the last one.
Another problem occurs when one group is faster than the others. Then you can tell this group to use more time to describe the vision. They can discuss what this vision will mean to them, and in what positive ways it will influence the organization. They can also be told to use more time to prepare arguments for the discussion when the total vision for the organization will be built. When you give special instruction to one group like this, this should only be given to this group. This means that you have to be close to this group when giving the instructions.
Step 5: Building the large group vision
Now we are ready for building the vision for the large group. Usually we call this the vision for the organization. If this is a part of the organization that shall have its own vision, we call it the vision for this part of the organization. Even when the participants are not going to live together in an organization with this vision, we pretend it to be a vision for an organization. In the beginning of the process, we then have got an agreement from the participants that we together shall pretend to build a vision for an organization. We ask them if they want to participate in such a game, and explain that this will make the vision building better. It will also be more useful for the learning process.
All the participants shall now be placed in a big circle so that again every participant sits in a similar position to the total group. The members of the small groups shall sit together side by side. The steps will again be described by an example of the instructions that you may give. Some instructions given with the small group vision building, may well be repeated. In the big group process, you more often have to be active as a facilitator to guarantee that the most important rules are being followed. Do not facilitate the group too much. They do not have to follow all the rules strictly, just the most important ones. This is to treat every picture with respect and to not argue against the other participants pictures.
The instructions may be like these:
We are now going to build the vision for our organization. We will do this in a similar way that we did when we made the vision for our small groups. First one group present their vision. The other groups just listen.
Then the next group presents their vision.
When the first group has presented their vision, you may say like this:
This was a very good vision. I think this group deserves an applause for this vision. Then you start applauding and get the total group to applaud to this vision. The same thing is repeated after each small group presentation, if the applause does not start without your instruction.
When every group has presented their vision, you may say the following:
Now we are going to build the vision for our organization. This time the vision should consist of seven pictures placed in a special way. You yourself choose the meaning of each picture and the meaning of the way they are placed. The rules are as before. Every picture means what the person who speaks about it, wants it to mean. Another person can also give the picture another meaning in addition to this, but not instead of the first meaning. Treat each picture with respect. Argue for your own pictures and for how you want the vision to be, not against the other participants pictures or arguments.
Usually the discussion goes on in a good way without you having to facilitate. But sometimes you have to intervene by leading parts of the discussion.
Also in this step of the process, the group may go on for a long time if you allow them to. After some time you can say like this:
Now you have four more minutes finishing building the vision.
Similar instruction may be given two or three times, but then the vision should be finished.
Usually we use from one to one and a half hour to go to step 2, 3, 4 and 5. This depends on the size of the group and in what way the discussions develop. You should not break off a fruitful discussion too early. On the other hand, part of the discussion should be postponed to a later step.
Seven pictures are usually the maximum number that can be used in this step. It is difficult to have an understanding and a general view of more than seven pictures. You can use fewer pictures, but no less than five pictures to build a total vision.
When we have finished building this vision for the organization, each participant is given the possibility to extend the vision for themselves. It is important for each participant to get a vision that is really their own. While making the common vision, several participants may have sacrificed parts of the vision that may be important to them.
You may do this by giving instructions like these:
Now we have built a vision. This is not perfect or complete, we could have worked with this for a long time to make it better. But I think it is good enough. By this I mean that it is a good vision that we all agree on, at least for some important part of it. But to be our personal vision, we may want to extend the vision a little bit. In an organization, there is a basic core of the vision that is common for the whole organization. In addition each person has his own vision that consists of this core and his own parts of the vision.
Now we will allow each person in the organization to do such an extension of the common vision. This is done by taking one or more pictures placing them between the common vision and yourself. The other participants may accept that as their own vision too, or let it be just the personal part for this member of our group.
When this has been done, we go to the next step.
Step 6: Describe the vision in words
During the process in the big group, we usually have an assistant facilitator to write down the words used in the discussion for describing the vision. These notes are taken without the group seeing which words that are being written down. They may see that something is written, but not what. The reason for this is that they should not be disturbed by the words written down. The facilitator may write on a note pad. He may also write on flip-over so that the words can be put on the wall later.
A vision is in principle in pictures. We also describe it in words. It is important to anchor the vision to the verbal parts of the brain and the other parts connected to this.
You may give instructions like these:
Now we have described the vision in pictures. During the discussion we have also described it in words. We will now give a short description in words of what the vision means. This will mostly be a repetition of what has been said before. Will anyone of you do this?
If any one of the participants gives this description, that is fine. You as a facilitator may then ask if anyone has anything to add. At this point you bring forward the words your assistant has written down. This can be shown to the participants or read to them.
We now have the vision described in pictures and words.
Step 7: Describing the vision of the whole organization
The process as described in step 2-6 may be used in not too big groups. We usually use it in groups up to thirty members, but occasionally it has been used in groups up to fifty to sixty members.
For bigger groups or organizations we then have to divide the organization into smaller groups, for example of size thirty. The vision for each such group is built in the way described in step 2-6.
To make the vision for the total organization, we go on like this: If the organization is small enough for everybody to come together in a big meeting, this is preferable. We then present the visions in pictures and words from the different groups. We show what is similar in the group visions. We put some effort into making this understandable. We say that the same thing is said in different ways, but basically they express the same vision. And for those things that are really different, we say that here we have differences from the different groups, and this gives a bigger and stronger vision for the whole organization. This shows that we are different, which makes us a more powerful and flexible organization. The common parts are enough to be the core vision for the total organization.
There is a core common for the whole organization and then different parts for each sub group in the organization and even for each person.
We end up with a description of the total vision in words. We can then have an ordinary discussion in the large group or in small groups within this. At last we have a vote over the total vision.
In larger organizations this is not possible. In principle we could go step by step with larger meetings, but this is usually not preferable. The important participation is by building the basic visions. A management group may put all the group visions together and come up with the vision for the total organization. As long as this has a core according to the group visions, and allow the groups or the individuals to extend the vision, this will usually be accepted by the whole organization.
The vision may also be summed up in pictures similar to the pictures that come up in the different groups. It is also possible to get an artist to make a picture expressing the same thing as the pictures used before. We usually do not do this, because this takes a lot more time and is more expensive. For a big organization that easily can afford this, this may be advisable.
Step 8: Widening the vision
So far the vision is usually described in more general terms. It may be more specifically described for some segments of the organization.
The vision should now be widened. This means to describe it in more details. For a company the vision should include all the important parts and activities of the company. As an example we may look at the company that produces a product. In the vision they want this product to be the leading product in the market. Widening the vision may then be to describe how big the market shares should be, who the customers should be, and so on. We may describe how the customers are very satisfied and come back to order more, how the order department receives these orders and how happy they are about this, how we describe this increase in sale in our annual report, etc.
This widening of the vision gives a more practical description of what the vision really means. We then get a better understanding of this. This also increases the motivation as it shows us what the results may be when the vision is made real.
Another way of widening the vision is to connect it to other visions. If we build a vision for a part of a company, we have to make connections to the vision for the whole company. If such vision does not exist, we connect our vision to the overall goal for the total company. This may be done by describing the results of the fulfilment of the vision.
The vision may be connected to a total vision for the society. This may be done in describing the advantages to the society if our vision becomes real. In the example this may be that our company has produced better products that better fulfil the needs of the customers and of the society. It may also be by describing how our vision will contribute to the well-being of the total society. Of course, the vision should be connected to the individual visions of the members of our organization. This is to describe what may happen to each of us if we fulfil the vision. We may become more successful at work, in personal life and in social life.
At this step the facilitator usually has to give the instructions several times until the vision is wide enough. However, we do not have to do the widening to a complete picture of everything that may happen. Step 9, 10 and 11 will also contribute to the widening of the vision.
You may give instructions like these:
Now we shall make our vision wider. This means to describe it in more details. Imagine what will happen when our vision becomes reality. What effect will this have in our organization, external and internal? And what effect will it have on yourself and your environment?
Usually we let the participants sit and think for themselves and write down for themselves for some minutes. Then they tell each other in small groups, what they have found. And then you let them in plenum, tell from each group what they have found.
How far you bring this depend on the kind of organization and the kind of vision. The purpose is that the vision now should be wide enough to give a good enough total picture of what will be achieved when the vision is fulfilled. This need not contain every detail, but it must be a representative description that contains the most important factors.
Step 9: Deepening the vision
There is no clear difference between widening and deepening the vision. The widening of the vision will also give a deepening of the vision and vice versa.
The deepening of the vision is to describe better what we really achieve by fulfilling the vision. We usually do this by one or both of two question methods. The first is to ask is what we will achieve if the vision, or a specific part of it, is fulfilled. The other is to ask why we want to achieve this vision or this special part of it. This questioning is continued until we have a good understanding what the vision will give us and why we want this vision. The facilitator has to guide this process through several steps. Usually we start by letting the participants find their own answers. Then we have a group discussion and at last a discussion in plenum.
A process may be like this (the questions of the facilitator are shown in italics):
Why do you want the products to be the leading products in the market?
So it can sell more.
Why do you want it to sell more?
So our company can earn more money.
Why do you want the company to make more money?
So our company can be economically sound, earn a lot of money and be a good place to work for all of us.
It may also run like this:
Why do you want our product to be a leading product in the market?
So I can be proud of having developed a good product.
Why do you want to be proud of having made a good product?
So I will feel more satisfied with myself.
What if you make this good product and are satisfied with yourself, what will you have achieved by this?
I will be more happy and content. I may also be promoted in my work. This will give me more satisfying jobs and I will earn more money.
What will you then have achieved?
My wife and I can by the house we have been talking about for seven years.
The deepening of the vision is important for the motivation to make the vision come real. The vision does not become real by itself. Sometimes somebody has to do a lot of things to fulfil it. If we really understand what the result of the vision will be and why we want it, this may give a strong motivation to really do what is necessary.
The deepening of the vision makes the vision more in agreement with the vision holders and their basic values and political, ethical or religious beliefs. Which of course give an increased motivation to fulfil the vision.
Step 10: Make the vision sensible
How do we know that we have fulfilled our vision? The vision, and the result of the vision, must be observable. This means that we can observe it with one or more of our senses.
In step 10 we describe the vision in the ways it can be observed through our senses. This may already have been done to a large extent by the previous steps. Sometimes this is not sufficiently done even when we think the vision is sufficiently described.
An example is if the vision contains the element that our company should be economically sound (this should always be a part of the vision for a private company). How will we observe that? We may see it on a bank account, or finally we have done the long needed replacement of the old furniture, we no longer have all this worried words from our leader, our salary has increased etc.
How do we observe that our colleagues are more inspired and happy? We may see that they smile more, they move more freely and energetic, they tell more jokes etc.
For every goal we want to reach, we have to have a way to know when we have reached it. And we have to know when we are on our way to reach it. So also for the great goal that the vision is.
This step of making the vision more observable also increases our understanding of the vision. It also increases the motivation.
Also in this step the facilitator has to coach the group till the description is good enough. He may give instructions like these:
When the vision has become real, how will you know that it has become real? What will have happened that shows that now the vision is fulfilled? What will you see through your eyes? What will you hear with your ears? What will you smell or taste? And what feelings and emotions will you have inside?
Step 11: From vision to goals
Sometimes the vision gives goals good enough. But mostly we have to make the vision more concrete and practical by specifying it in practical goals. The goals are also necessary for us to know what it really means to fulfil the vision and to know when we have done this.
Sometimes we do step 11 in the same workshop as the previous steps. Very often the goal setting is a larger process that should be done later and by the department and the people that have responsibility for the specific goals in their areas.
However, some of the goal setting should preferably be done as a part of the vision building process. This to ensure that at least some part of the vision is connected to the practical reality that the goals should be. Sometimes this step is then to bring the vision down from the more idealistic and far reaching ideas (that is necessary for a vision to be a good vision) to the more practical daily experienced reality. This is also a way to make it clear for the participants that the fulfilment of the vision has practical consequences.
Economical soundness may be specified in sales, results and so on. More happy members of the organization may be specified in lower turnover for the employment, better health etc.
The facilitator may give instructions like these:
Now we have our vision. Now we have to know what this means in practical reality. We therefore have to set goals that agree with our vision. We need the kinds of goals that when they are achieved, the vision, or parts of it, also are achieved.
The facilitiator has to give specific instructions connected to the actual vision and organization.
Step 12: From vision to reality
Now we have the vision and the goals connected to it. The next step is to find how to get from where we are now to the fulfilment of the vision. We usually start this by describing the present situation. We then compare this with the vision including the practical goals.
The gaps between the present situation and the wanted situation, we use as starting points for a problem solving session. This can be done in a similar session as the vision building or at a later session. Sometimes we must have several different sessions later.
We usually use the CPS-method (Creative Problem Solving) by Parnes (19??) or Forsth (1991). But any problem solving or creative method that you are familiar with, may be used in step 12. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe such methods. If you are not familiar with such methods, you may use plain brain storming, and just ask the participants for ideas for what to do, to move from the present situation to the fulfilment of the vision.
A complete vision building should result in a plan of action for achieving the vision.
Step 13: Strengthening the vision and its fulfilment
The twelve steps described so far are sufficient to make a vision and to guarantee that the vision or parts of it, will become a reality. Several other things may be done to help this along.
When we have a dream, we repeat it again and again. The vision for ourselves or our organization is a kind of daydream. We should repeat it again and again. We should not force ourselves to do it, but repeat it in the same way as we do with our daydreams. This may include that we see before us all the things that will be achieved when the vision is fulfilled.
Faith and belief
The more faith we have in the vision and the more we believe it to be the right vision, the more we will work to make the vision become real. The more we believe that we will succeed in making the vision become real, the more we will work for it. The faith and the belief are inspiration and motivation.
We can also do an active effort to strengthen our faith and belief by studying other persons who have had visions and succeeded in making them real. Success stories may be an inspiration to others that want to make success. These stories may tell what it takes to make success.
We can be more aware of what we have already succeeded in. Every one of us and every organization has done a lot of small and big things which can be classified as successes. To fulfil our vision is usually not to do one big thing, but many smaller things that together do it. And most of those small things, or similar small things, we have succeeded in the past. By being more aware of this, we believe more in ourselves and our organization. We also get some ideas to what we can do and how we can do it.
Positive affirmation (is when we tell ourselves that this we will and can do) is recommended as a method by itself. As a part of a vision building and fulfilment process described in this article, positive affirmation may give an extra help.
Support the vision
The plan of action to fulfil the vision and actions according to this plan, are the best way of supporting the vision. We can also try to find other ways of doing this. You also support the vision by convincing yourself more and more that this is a good vision for you. You may also start to learn more that give you better qualifications to achieve the vision. Or establish co-operations and alliances with others.
Some of what has been said before can be summed up in the word energy. The point is to give the vision as much energy as possible. This is done by increasing the attractiveness of the vision, the faith and belief in the vision and its fulfilment. Anything you do to increase the vision’s energy, will motivate you both consciously and unconsciously to do what you can to make the vision becomes real.
4 Practical application
We have in this article described a complete step by step method for building a vision. When you master this approach, you may modify this in many ways. We often reverse the order of some of the steps or repeat some of the steps. We also include other methods or techniques depending on the situation, the group, and what kind of vision we are going to build and the purpose of the vision building. The most important part of each step is its purpose and not necessarily the way it is described here.
On the other hand, a step by step process as described here, usually gives a good result. Vision building is very popular today and a lot of methods are used by a lot of people. It is rather simple to facilitate a vision building process that is experienced as successful by the participants. However, many such processes will be just that. A nice experience that gave a good vision and could serve as an inspiration for the participants. But later, nothing more happens. They have built their vision, but there are no signs that anything is done differently than before or that anything may contribute to the fulfilment of the vision. Usually one or both of the two following things are missing:
The vision has not been connected well enough to the vision holders. This means that the vision is not a sufficiently good fulfilment of their basic inner values and beliefs. In our step by step process we do this in step 2, 8, 9 and 10. The process in step 3, 4 and 5 also contributes to this. If the building of the vision is done in a good way, the vision may seem to become real by itself. Of course it will not, but what happens is that the motivation is so high, that the vision holders will start to find ways to fulfil the vision and ending up really fulfilling it.
The other thing that often lacks is to continue the process when the vision is built. Usually the vision does not become real by itself. Even when it seems that it does, it can be done better and faster by doing this in an active and more direct way. This we do by identifying the gaps between the present situation and the vision. We find ideas, and finally a plan, to bridge this gap. This we do especially in step 11 and 12, but also step 8, 9, 10 and 13 contribute to this.
The best should not, however, be the enemy of the good. A simple vision building process that results in a vision that the participants are satisfied with, are usually an inspiration and a shared experience that will do the participants and their organization only well. But a good thing can be better, and this article presents a way to achieve that.
Dr.ing. Leif-Runar Forsth is the director of Norwegian Institute of Creativity, which is a nonprofit foundation for research, development and teaching of creativity. He is also an organizational consultant.
Bodil Nordvik is also one of the founders of Norwegian Institute of Creativity. She is now director of the consulting company IPO A/S.
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