The Happy Startup Guide to Creating A Clear Vision

10 ways to paint a picture of the future that excites you and becomes a magnet for others

Laurence McCahill
Jan 8, 2020 · 10 min read

In my last post I talked about the need to create an excite strategy as we enter 2020 and the start of a new decade.

At The Happy Startup School we want you to craft a vision for the next 10 years that helps you get stupidly excited about what lies ahead.

Where your zone of genius meets what the world needs.

Think of it as a place where you’re living your purpose — life is good and work feels effortless. This is about creating a vision that inspires, but has a grounding in reality.

If you’re able to clearly paint this picture of your future then the most important job is done — you have clarity on where you’re going.

This is your 2020 Vision

Not a 10 year plan — but a 10 year horizon, where you have room to play and grow.

Where you think long term and learn to enjoy the journey.

Working out how to achieve that vision is the fun bit.

You’ll begin to start thinking more creatively because you’ll be excited about where you’re going, and you’ll be more focused on how this business will work for you rather than the other way around.

So why don’t more of us do it?

One word – effort.

Creating or communicating a vision feels like effort.

Often as entrepreneurs we have an idea in our heads and a vague direction we’re going in, but putting this into words is another thing.

Ever tried to explain what it is you’re trying to do with your business over a drink at a dinner party and struggled to get the right words out?



Simplifying the first step

We’re big advocates of thingifying your thoughts – turning those ideas in your head into a thing that you can share with others.

This guide is our attempt to help you get started with crafting your vision in a way that connects with others, but more importantly gets you clear yourself.

So how can having a clear vision help?

  1. It excites you
  2. It becomes a magnet for others
  3. It helps you to know what’s in and what’s out
  4. It saves you time working on the wrong things
  5. It opens up doors of possibility you can’t imagine right now

Years ago when we were designing apps for a living we’d work closely with our clients to agree on some guiding principles and a vision for the product.

Once we did that, how we got there became a whole lot easier.

It meant we could be more creative about how we approached the project and were more open to spot opportunities on how to do things better.

However, if we weren’t clear on what success looked like then the project would just go round in circles as we argued over what was the best technology to use or what design looked prettiest.

A huge waste of time (and money).

And we see this pattern again and again — those with a clear vision know where they’re going and eliminate anything that won’t help them get there.

In a very similar way we want you to get clear on your vision for your world and how your business fits into this.

If you’re ready to level up by crafting a new story for your work read on for some ways to make this more visible and real going into 2020.

1. Work on your Very Clear Idea

Rewind to 2015 when The Happy Startup School was a side project and we were trying to decide whether to give it our all (which would mean closing our agency) or keep running both in parallel.

A couple of years earlier we were introduced to Charles Davies and his simple, but powerful Very Clear Ideas process. Charlie has a way about him and his work cuts through the noise that gets in the way at the early stage. When we needed clarity, he was the first person that came to mind. He helped us get clear on our vision for HSS, which in turn made exiting the agency seem like not just the right thing to do, but the only thing to do.

Our Very Clear Idea – the card is a little tatty as it still sits in my wallet 5 years on

This new found clarity brought focus, purpose and energy. And 5 years on, the work we did on that day working through his questions, still brings me back to the reason we started this in the first place.

💡 Read: Very Clear Ideas: an introduction

2. Write a cheery postcard from your future

I discovered this exercise in The School of Life book How to Worry Less About Money. I found it to be hugely powerful as it removes any financial projections or attachment to material goods, but rather what your life and work looks and feels like 3 years from now.

It helps to really consider what constitutes success for you, not what society or a business book tells you. We believe that success is something incredibly personal — a brighter future that only you can determine, and this exercise helps to get clear on what that is.

Even if you write it now and never read it again, your subconscious has a way of working you towards that vision of how you want things to be — I’ve seen it first hand myself. Call it manifesting, the law of attraction or serendipity, but stepping into a different way of being takes awareness and clarity.

All I do know is if you don’t know what you want, you won’t know how to get there.

✏️ Read: Write your own cheery postcard

3. Create a vision board

We’ve been using vision boards since some of our earliest events as they’re a fun and playful way to bring your vision to life. At Summercamp once we had 70 people in the barn taking cuttings from magazines, sticking words and pictures that inspired them to their board. It’s an exercise that brings out the child in everyone, and before you know it has captured a feeling that you want to convey with your business – and gives you something you can use as a talking point to others.

✂️ Read: How to make a vision board in 5 easy steps

4. Build it in Lego

Like with a vision board, using Lego bricks to bring your vision to life takes us back to being a kid again. Laila Powlak from Singularity University Denmark ran an amazing Lego workshop at Summercamp a few years ago helping folks to build their vision in 3d. Some struggled with knowing where to start and she just said:

“If you don’t know what to build, just start building”

Useful advice for business, not just Lego. Once people started, they got in the flow and before you knew it, we had dozens of structures and lots of passionate makers who could articulate their vision in a way they’d not been able to before.

🏠 Read: Using LEGO to help create a vision statement

Jack’s vision for Dream Valley – a playground for entrepreneurs (that’s him flying high with the parachute) where we host Alptitude

5. Draw it

A good friend of ours Jack Hubbard, a serial entrepreneur and mountain adventurer, had recently moved to the French Alps with his family and had a vision for his new home to become a playground for purpose-driven entrepreneurs and leaders – a place that he nicknamed Dream Valley. Rather than write out a long plan or even blog , he wanted to get this vision out of his head and started to sketch out what it looked like – with . Soon after he recruited the services of an illustrator friend to bring this picture to life – the fruits of which are shown above. Now when we run our Alptitude retreats we can show people the different places they’ve visited and experiences they’ve had on the poster. Nowadays people think Dream Valley is an actual place, and that Jack owns it. The power of a good (visual) story.

🎨 Read: Stop talking about your vision, draw it

6. Create a manifesto

When we first started The Happy Startup School one of the first things we shared was our Happifesto. It clearly laid out what we believed about business and what drove us. We were inspired by a couple of other companies who did the same thing such as Holstee (shown above).

We had already gone through an exercise of defining our core values and had got much clearer on what we believed. That made it easier to make this public and start sharing it with the world.

This approach really kickstarted the growth of our tribe because we weren’t trying to sell anything, we were just looking to attract and engage with likeminded people. By wearing your values on your sleeve it makes it so much easier to make the right connections.

📙 Read: The Holstee Manifesto

How we shared our vision back in 2012

7. Create a slide deck (carousel)

Instagram and LinkedIn have created a resurgence of interest in bitesized content that inspires and educates in equal measure. The boring presentation slide deck has evolved into an eye catching series of graphics that communicate an idea in a fun and accessible way. You can still use tools like Powerpoint and Keynote to create slides that bring your vision to life, and the constraints this brings can be a good thing. LinkedIn seems to promote PDF carousels above other content so not only is this a way for you to get clear, it makes perfect business sense too.

📎 Read: How to create a PDF carousel

Ruth Anslow, founder of hiSbe Supermarket, speaking at Happy Startup Summercamp

8. Record a video

Getting in front of a camera can be a daunting task for anyone, particularly founders that haven’t quite yet found the words for a super-sharp elevator pitch. But as we say ‘perfection is the enemy of done’, so now’s the time to feel the fear and do it anyway. You’d be mad not to harness the power of video to share your vision and build your audience – all you need is a smart phone and having something to say. Sometimes the best, most authentic videos are the least polished ones. The content is the most important thing, you can improve the quality over time.

📺 Read: How to record your first video

9. Co-coach with a friend

When you’re too close to something, you just can’t see it – it’s impossible to read the label when you’re inside the bottle. We need others to shine a light on the obvious. This is why buddying up with a friend to support each other is a hugely powerful way to get clear on your vision, particularly if you don’t have a co-founder. It means you have someone to bounce ideas off, and by helping them, in turn you help yourself. Co-coaching involves one peer being the coach while the other is the coachee and vice versa during a set amount of time. We’ve seen people in our community use this approach to find clarity and focus with great success.

👬 Read: Our guide to co-coaching

10. Host your own personal retreat

My co-founder Carlos ran his own personal retreat back in 2016, soon after we’d made the leap from running an agency to creating an alternative business school and community. He elaborates:

“Listening to a podcast from Startups For the Rest of Us I got some ideas on how I could run my own personal retreat. I didn’t want it to degenerate into a self indulgent navel gazing exercise. I was determined to avoid spending too much time just reflecting (rightly or wrongly) and actually get something done. While I appreciate I can’t be too rigid with these kinds of things and try to force it, I also wanted to be systematic about it. I therefore did it in the only way I know how. In a way that felt most comfortable. I structured and timetabled it. It was all going to fit into one day (having done it I found I really needed two days!!!).”

You can read his learnings and tips for running your own retreat below.

🍵 Read: 11 steps for running your own personal retreat

We hope these have given you some food for thought on how to get clear on a vision for your life or business.

Best of luck.

ps. If you’d like to be part of a small group of 20 founders working together to move their business to the next level in the next decade then check out our 2020 Vision Program – the next tribe starts in September 2021.

The Happy Startup School

The Happy Startup School