The Vision Trap

“I have an incredible, game-changing, transformational vision for the future,” the eager entrepreneur tells me as part of her pitch.

Naturally, my next question is, “Specifically how do you plan to execute?”  As I dive three or four questions deeper – asking about cost per acquisition assumptions, which team members should be added and when, how they define a unit and what are the corresponding unit economics – the entrepreneur tilts her head sideways, reminiscent of a bewildered puppy.

Great pursuits always begin with a big vision.  This applies to business, art, philanthropy, relationships, community redevelopment, invention, and social change.  But the reason the vast majority fail isn’t that the vision is too big, it’s that the execution is too small.

Imagine a friend telling you they had a vision to go on a dream vacation from their home in New York to the West Coast.  Nice vision indeed.  But without some specifics, the vacation may soon turn into a voyage of despair.  How long with the trip be? Which cities will you visit?  Who will be travelling?  When is the trip scheduled to begin?

Think about the difference between “heading west” and using Google Maps for directions.  One is based all on vision, while the other provides step-by-step instructions with incredible detail to help you reach your destination.  In your own life, which method do you use?

I see people stumble regularly by not methodically plotting out their journeys.  They speak of flowery destinations yet lack the discipline, focus, and grit to figure out how to reach them.  Lots of people want to be successful, but many fall into the vision trap: Having a fanciful vision but lacking a detailed game plan to reach it.  The field of broken dreams is paved with vague and lazy execution.

If you were an Army general tasked with overthrowing an evil regime (your vision), you wouldn’t just charge for the hills.  You’d plan out an effective approach to achieving the objective as efficiently as possible (minimize casualties, costs, etc.).  You’d determine how many missiles would be needed and what kind.  You’d calculate the number of ground forces and determine a specific path for them to engage.  You’d figure out where to position your aircraft carriers in the nearby sea.  You’d connect your intelligence from the field with central command.  Of course you’d make real-time adjustments, but you would approach the mission with a commitment to precision execution.

Having a big vision AND the ability to execute with precision isn’t easy, but nothing in life worth doing ever is.  If you truly want to reach your full potential, embrace your vision for sure.  But let that merely be the starting point of a detailed, step-by-step plan.  Vision + Execution + Unwavering Commitment = Success.  Fall short on any of these components, and you’ll miss playing your best game.

Dream gigantic ideas.  Just don’t forget to figure out the details on how you plan to seize them.