Visioning is the Secret Ingredient in your Awesome Sauce

I first discovered visioning when I was a grad student at the University of Michigan. I was enrolled as a dual MBA and MS student and, at both programs, found myself drawn to courses that dealt with human and behavioral issues.

One day we were assigned to read an article by Donella Meadows, Envisioning a Sustainable World. In the article, Donella Meadows shares an experience - she was leading a series of workshops geared toward resolving global hunger challenges. She began one workshop by asking participants, “What is your vision of a world without hunger?” and was immediately challenged by limiting points of view: We’ll never have enough money to feed people. There just isn’t a good enough distribution system. What matter is education and jobs... With all the negativity, she chose to reframe the conversation by using visioning techniques. Participants opened their minds to possibilities, some for the first time, and instead of obstacles, they created solutions and ideas. “The vision we pulled out of each other that day has gone on powering me for years,” she stated. Ever since then, I’ve been drawn to opportunities to use visioning to open up conversations. From as simple as, “What does success look like?” to the oodgie goodgie, “What will be different in ten years because of me?” this line of thought is always compelling.

Later, I took a course on transformational leadership (thanks Bob Quinn). The coursework included multiple visioning assignments because being a transformational leader requires a strong sense of what you’re trying to accomplish and who you want to be. I plotted out what I imagined for my future. I put pen to paper and words into a word doc to capture who and what I wanted to be someday. It felt awkward, in part, because writing it down made it more real.  It’s been easy to dream my whole life… but formulating full sentences and forcing myself to re-read what I wrote started building this feeling of potential and wanting inside of me that became a powerful source of energy and momentum. 

Some things are intangible yet invaluable.

Years later, I felt stalled personally and professionally again, and I remembered that I had earlier captured what I wanted for myself. I went back to the ideas I’d put on the page for Future Kara. She was supposed to be living in upstate New York, empowering the people around her. Suddenly I had the strength and courage to make changes in my life and move myself forward toward that reality. I quit my job in Michigan even though I loved it, and moved across the country. I had conversations about my vision with others, and almost every time they would bring out something new. To revise my earlier ideas for my future, I brainstormed inspiration and dreams with a good friend... and suddenly I had a business partner!

It’s not that the process of visioning handed me my future on a silver platter, nor has it given me a version of the future that will definitely come to pass. Who knows whether I’ll end up where I plan to end up. What visioning has given me is a concrete dream to go after.  It’s a direction. Along the way, I’ll learn, share, test, iterate, and tweak. And the journey will be filled with bumps and surprises, a veritable Aggro Crag. (You’re welcome for that reference).

To sum up, visioning gives you:

  • Direction
  • Inspiration
  • A story
  • Momentum
  • Experiments

What’s your vision?

 -- Kara Davidson, Co-founder, wolf & heron