Posted by: genevievetaylor | July 17, 2008

Creating A Sustainability Vision

We have talked about how to move a vision through an organization – but how do we create it?

Vision… a tricky subject. Why? Because of its proximity to the mystic. After all, a vision is created in the mind’s eye. And what is the mind? Millions and millions of processes about millions of processes that coalesce into strands of thought. But I digress.

What is a vision? Put simply – it is an articulation of a direction. More complexly, it is the full description of a place and actions in time and space that is not yet created. The seeds of a vision may be in one person; it may be in the conversation between several.

A friend of mine, another facilitator, said that he was posed with an interesting challenge when he had to help a group with a blind person “Create a Vision.” Even the word “vision” was out of access to this person. He worked through it by asking questions about how it would feel, taste, smell; what action would stand out; how people would treat each other. This actually turned into an advantage – they had to become much more descriptive with how they described their direction.

The most successful visions are ones that are visceral – we can feel them in our bones. As facilitators, we help groups create visions by placing them as much as possible in the shoes of the future organization or person they want to be, with questions like, What are you seeing, hearing, doing, thinking, feeling, in the year 2018? The seeds of vision are typically deeply personal; they come from the hopes and belief systems of the individuals. Typically, circling to the vision is the best way to begin; understanding personal values and motivations creates common ground upon which building a vision can become much easier.

As Charles M. Schwab once said, “A man to carry on a successful business must have imagination. He must see things as in a vision, a dream of the whole thing.

The job of a good facilitator is to draw out personal visions, to help the group see the common ground between those visions, and then to build that vision on that ground. To help them see – and build – “the whole thing.”

A great sustainability vision…

…Uses vivid, active language Bill Gates’ famous vision of the 80s sustained their company for many years – A PC on Every Desk.

…Includes triple bottom line elements – its vision for the company’s impact on the planet, on the people (both internal and external) and on the company’s long-term sustainability.

…Is attainable – but is a stretch. What makes a vision worthwhile? It is an appropriate stretch for that group. Its worthy of the time and effort put into it.

…Is compelling. To be compelling, the vision must be based on the values of that person, group, or organization. It must be something “worth sacrificing for.”

…Paints a bright future. Long-time practitioners in Appreciative Inqury have said that people are like plants – they turn to the light. Painting a bright future turns our minds to the light of what’s possible.

…Stems from personal visions. Visions carry their most power when they ignite the power of the imagination. How do you ignite imagination? Very often, by taking a moment, and letting your mind create possibility. Back to that mind’s eye – the best way to ignite your imagination is to give it enough breathing room, enough oxygen, enough space to let your vision of the future unfold. We have to let go of “doing” for just a moment, let our active minds sit, and let the deeper layers unfold. I like to take groups to the beach and give them a bit of reflection time.

Do you have a sustainability vision for your organization? Let me know!


  1. “A community of learners engaged in meaningful work.”

    That has been the phrase I’ve used to describe my vision through all the schools I have worked on. I’m sure it could be more descriptive — I could add more details. But as it stands, it has affected every decision I make or project I choose to engage in for about 15 years now.

    Each word has meaning for me:
    community – setting up structures of belonging
    learners – focusing on learning more, exhibiting genuine curiosity and growth
    engaged – I think of “flow”, following passion
    meaningful – the meaning of what we do comes from inside ourselves
    work – we are not passive recipients of knowledge, we are learning and working, providing service and contributing.


  2. Hi Michael –
    Thanks for writing out your vision. It is concise, compelling, and based out of your own values. I really appreciate how every word has meaning infused in it. And it sounds like it passes the time past – a vision may evolve over time, but its essence will remain.
    Thanks for your contribution!

  3. […] – bookmarked by 2 members originally found by bieg on 2008-12-11 Creating A Sustainability Vision – bookmarked by […]

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