Need a Vision that inspires your people? Make it a moonshot.

Mark O'Keeffe
Aug 9, 2019 · 8 min read

Why is it that most vision statements aren’t all that visionary? More of a muddled stew of company-centric goals seasoned with some personal values.

Is it because most corporate visions are too short-sighted or self-centred? Perhaps visions should be for the benefit of all, not just the companies who create them?

It’s said that customers don’t just buy your stuff — they buy what you stand for. What if they bought into your vision? Became part of your movement, rather than just another customer. Now that would be a vision worth having. Much more valuable than any marketing campaign.

If you’re on a mission to change the status quo, a clear vision may be just what you need. Good visions are hard to envision — so is the struggle worth the effort?

Let’s find out.

Vision and mission. Is there an actual difference?

I often hear brand and marketing folk getting their wires crossed when talking about visions and missions. The simplest definition I have come across:

‘a mission is actionable, a vision is aspirational’.

Forget visions for the minute, I want to talk about missions. As far as missions go, the moon landing was about as ambitious as they get (just so you know, I’m a little obsessed with space travel at the moment). Coincidently, this month marks 50 years since we stepped on the moon.

To the moon and back! A mission goal like no other.

Fifty years ago, humans set off on one of the most extraordinary missions ever. Three men strapped themselves to one very powerful rocket and shot for the moon. To succeed would send a signal of strength to the world; a celebration of engineering and scientific achievement like no other. To fail… well, that wasn’t an option (although here’s the speech that they prepared in case it did fail).

On July 16 1969, it took 770,000 litres of fuel to create the 7.6 million pounds of thrust needed to get the largest-ever handmade rocket off the ground and on its way to our moon. That’s a lot of power!

At launch, the Saturn V rocket generated the equivalent of 43 x Boeing 747 jumbo jets at full throttle. That’s a lot of fuel! The average family car could road trip around the world about 800 times with that kind of gas.

Side note: if these kind of stats float your boat, you should read this.

There was another type of fuel at work that was essential to getting this 36-storey moon missile off the ground. It was the fuel provided by an ambitious mission goal “of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to earth”. A goal set in John F. Kennedy’s moon speech during his 1961 address to Congress.

As far as mission goals go, this one was about as crazy as they get. Why?

  1. Most of the technology needed to accomplish this mission didn’t exist. Here are some tech inventions born out of the Apollo mission that we take for granted today.
  2. The 100-month timeframe made it near impossible. There’s nothing like a deadline to get things done!
  3. For some added pressure, every step of the way was going to be broadcast to the world. Reality TV at its absolute finest.

Way to set a goal Mr Kennedy! Luckily the ambitious mission had enough fuel to power human collaboration of epic proportions. 400,000 people. 20,000 industrial firms and universities at its peak in the mid-60’s.

It fuelled innovation on a scale never seen before. How? A common goal created a sense of purpose and an unstoppable drive within the team.

Apollo had a mission that could fuel a team to the moon and back. But what was the vision?

Well if you asked President Kennedy why they were going to the moon, he would have replied “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

Silence… This was hardly a mic drop moment during his famous vision public address at Rice University Stadium in 1962. He receives a more excited response from the crowd by mentioning Rice playing Texas in a game of American Football.

To me, President Kennedy’s vision for the people was cloudy at best, and it seems I’m not alone in this opinion. Rather than unite the citizens, it divided them. The majority weren’t convinced that the value of space exploration was worth the cost back here on earth. A 1965 poll showed participants ranking issues like education, health care, anti-poverty programs, and even water desalination research as more worthy of government spending.

Now I’m no historian, but by the power of Google I’m going to give it red hot go. Let’s see if we can unscramble this vision.

  • Around the time of this speech the US Civil Rights Movement was in the depths of their struggle for social justice and equal rights. Could a race to the moon help the oppressed stand on their own two feet back here on earth? Not likely.
  • A second wave of feminism had inspired women of all ages to fight for equality and stronger roles within American society. Could a race to the moon help empower women? There was one female engineer in mission control on that infamous day, but apart from Poppy Northcutt, the moon mission wasn’t going to move the needle for equality.
  • The Vietnam War — a byproduct of the Cold War — was claiming the lives of Americans at an alarming rate during the 60’s. 300 casualties a week during its peak in 1968 (one year out from the moon shot). Could a race to the moon bring the soldiers home and end a seemingly pointless war? A long shot.
  • On a global stage the Cold War was gripping the world. A battle for influence was at play — the freedom of the west vs the communist tyranny of the east. Could a race to the moon help restore the balance of power? Getting warmer…?

The US (west) and the Soviet Union (east) were fighting over influence. At the same time the US were losing the space race to the Soviets. Double whammy. They were failing miserably and very publicly. Remember Flopnik? America’s answer to the Soviet’s Sputnik.

My best guess of the ultimate vision — winning this extravagant race to the moon would send a signal to the rest of the world. A signal of strength, of scientific and engineering supremacy and of the pioneering American spirit.

Winning the space race might restore public confidence in the Kennedy Administration and restore global confidence in the United States, so they can get on with the honorary job of leading the world as #1 Banana!

If this was indeed the vision then it was a successful one, as the USA went on to exert its global influence — and continues to do so today. Mission accomplished. But did it create any greater change in the world?

Good visions inspire movements — movements create change.

Why is it that leaders, both in politics and business, often struggle to clearly define their vision? Like Kennedy said “because they are hard…”. They are hard, but I also think they are worth the effort if the aim is to change the status quo, make a difference or do something meaningful.

Good leadership is not driven by leaders, it’s driven by a vision for the future.

Take Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech around the same time as President Kennedy’s. He had a dream. A vision so aspirational that it inspired a whole movement (black and white) and lead to change. A vision so powerful that it still lives on today.

What makes a good vision in the world of business?

Let me get to the point. Corporate vision statements shouldn’t be about where the company wants to be. No ambitious company ever wanted to be less than the market leader. I think this is where most of us go wrong. We look internally, not externally. Get over yourself!

Don’t be self-centred. Be human-centred — as in for the good of all humanity.

Not all visions need to be attainable either. As a matter of fact, perhaps they should never be achievable. To me, some of the best visions are made from seemingly impossible dreams. Moonshots.

These visions are perpetual, and not to mention worthwhile pursuits for humanity.

So if you’re on a mission to create a vision, start by asking yourself ‘what ultimate impact do I want my effort to have on my community, the market, the culture or our world?’

Moonshot visions:

  1. Are a compass for decision making — They shape your choices both big and small, short term and long term. They keep you focused and on course.
  2. Serve as inspiration for innovation — They spark imaginations, inspire evangelists and lead to innovation.
  3. Are a magnet for shared purpose — They bring people together under a common cause, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Many people are looking for someone, or something to believe in. Get them to believe in your vision.
  4. Are the culture of ‘movements’ — When people unite under a common cause at the right time, in the right environment, under the right conditions — cultures are born. Cultures can sustain the right kind of growth to power movements.
  5. Are the catalyst for change — Cultures have the power to create change.

Humanity needs moonshot visions now more than ever.

We have come a long way in fifty years. In retrospect, the Apollo mission would have played a very significant role in designing the world we live in today. It would have almost certainly accelerated technology and the dawn of our now digitally-connected lives.

We’re more connected than ever and as a result, are reminded daily how we need to change our ways if we’re to survive and thrive in the next fifty years and beyond.

For things to change we all need moonshot-worthy visions. Governments, communities, businesses and individuals around the globe need their own equivalent of a moonshot.

If we can put man on the moon, we can all create inspiring visions.

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