Creative Focus with Vision Statements

Why a Vision Statement?

What does it matter, you may ask? Your vision statements act as a compass, orienting the business or project and keeping you on course for success, so they matter a great deal. Your vision statements help to align daily operations with your strategic plans, and to help those strategic plans to have a long-term orientation.

A Vision Statement defines the optimal future state that you would like to achieve.“A world without Alzheimer’s disease,” is the organizational vision statement for the Alzheimer’s Association and "Empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, and on any device," is Microsoft’s. These statements effectively communicate the long-term, enduring goals of the organization, in some cases even defining a future in which the organization is possibly no longer necessary, such as in the case of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Vision Statements are not only useful for an organization as a whole, but also for various brand divisions and departments, and even specific products. They help your team understand the expectations, the real meaning of what you aim to accomplish and how they contribute to the larger outcome.

Vision Statements also help during tough times: when resources need to be reallocated or cut back, a vision statement can help to guide how limited resources are directed: a predictable or understandable outcome is accepted with more grace, and this can be accomplished even more effectively when key stakeholders are involved in the development of the vision.

Formulating Your Vision Statement

The Vision Statement, as we mentioned, is a statement of the ideal future when you have achieved your ultimate ends. The vision statement helps define how you will solve a problem that is real for real people. The statement describes the problem, for whom it is a problem, and it then describes the solution to the problem and the timeframe within which the solution can be at hand. A product vision will describe the core essence of the product and its higher purpose for existing.

The brainstorming questions you develop will help your group to develop a compelling vision of an achievable future. A compelling message irresistibly engages the recipient of the message in a vision.

Vision is a future that can be described in concrete terms that are easy to visualize, because it is achievable. We may even be looking at a very distant goal, but if the goal were not achievable, then why would we bother engaging with the problem? By their nature, these problems will be solved in the future-sometime from this moment forward-but again, not never because the solution is achievable.

Ask the Right Questions

Your vision is going to be a combination of big- and small-picture ideas. The big-picture ideas are the ones that provide the basic parameters of your project scope: Why do we exist? What problems do we seek to solve? The world-famous BIC brand had initially conceptualized itself as a company that made stationery implements- fountain pens, the ballpoint pens invented by its founder Marcel Bich, and mechanical lead pencils. However, BIC re-imagined its vision and settled on the idea of being the world’s leading manufacturer of disposable plastic household supplies. With that vision established, BIC products have become everyday necessities.

Whether you are seeking to give form to your entire organization or just to a new project or product, the vision is a conduit for creativity – offering constraints and guidance toward a desired outcome. There is no magical script for questions; you will know which questions to develop based on what you need to know. Depending on the type of vision statement you are developing, different details will be relevant:

Who are our existing customers/target audience (or who are our competitors’ customers)? How do we interact with our customers? What does our business seek to accomplish, and what is its defining features? What doour products seek to accomplish, what are their defining features or capabilities? What does our future hold? What principals do we hold dear, or do we have defining values? How do we make money? Why do we exist?

Your vision statement should also explicitly state how you will know that you have been successful (your Success Measures.) You may want to define this in one of a couple ways: when a change was made (the timeline); whether there is a qualitative change (a change in attitude or behavior) and what was it; and whether there is a quantitative (numeric) way to define the goal, such as a sales metric.

Sticky Note Brainstorming the Vision Statement

The basic brainstorming method of Sticky Notes, coupled with Affinity Mapping, will help you to write your vision statements. The Sticky Notes can be used to generate single-word answers to the questions that you present for each problem of developing the Statement of Vision.

Ask your group the questions that you feel will best draw out the description of what your vision ought to be, and have participants write their individual answers on one sticky note each, to generate ideas around one of these questions at a time. Ask the participants to keep their ideas brief- five words or less.

Give participants a limited period of time, or limited number of sticky notes for each of your questions, to keep the ideas moving.

When participants have answered one question, use the Affinity Mapping technique to help generate the common vision. As participants place their sticky notes on the large working surface, ask them to group them loosely with other related ideas.

Then, with the group’s help, the facilitator will help to refine the sticky note placements, putting outliers that don’t fit in into an “idea parking lot.” Once the stickies are arranged in a way that seems to make sense to the group, get the group’s input on the phrase you can use to label each cluster of stickies.

This part is different from ordinary affinity mapping, in which all the ideas are to be considered individually and labeled with a single word. In this case, we do want to consider everyone’s ideas, and we are also looking for common themes that can be distilled into something memorable and inspirational, so consider broadening your criteria for what construes “related” if you can do so without losing the essence of the idea.

As you generate the labels for your sticky note clusters, attempt to get consensus on the meaning of each cluster. Perhaps something that is common in the group’s vision is the pride you feel in your high-quality product. Product quality is something that may have been touched upon in a vision statement generated by an exclusive group of stakeholders, but it likely would have lacked the human touch of pride. Work together see if you can create a short phrase that distills the gist of the grouped ideas, including emotional content if there is any, or have the group select a sticky note that “says it perfectly.”

Once you have your phrases, the group can work to fit them together. The best vision statements are clear, memorable, resonant, and succinct, so if there is overlap even between the phrases see if you can address that in your phrasing. Don’t be frustrated if the group becomes very particular about word choice, just have a thesaurus handy!

Use a Persona Empathy Map

The Empathy Map brainstorming technique works for developing a customer-centered vision. An Empathy Map is an idealized exploration of your audience’s mindset and helps your team predict the factors that inform a particular individual’s viewpoint, including your target audiences or users (who are represented by Personas you have developed), and to address that viewpoint when formulating a vision of your ideal outcomes. This keeps your team focused on the human aspect of your work.

This activity takes about 10-15 minutes and is suitable for smaller groups of 3 to 10 people.

Draw a template diagram that looks like this one on a sheet of poster paper, or use the template available at https://creativecompanion.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/persona-core-poster_creative-companion1.pdf

Give your team copies of the Personas they are to work with, which includes information such as their age, gender, education level, or other pertinent demographic information. Ask the group to describe the experiences in each category on the worksheet, from their assigned persona’s point of view.

The goal of the exercise is to generate a degree of empathy for the persona, within the group. Ask the group to synthesize their responses: What does this persona want from us/ how can we help achieve their goals? How does this persona need help moving through life/ what can we do for this persona?

The answers that your team gives don’t have to be accurate, but they do have to be truthful, based on what you know from your Persona, which was created using interviews with real users.

Clear, Memorable, and Inspirational

A final note on how to write your statements: by making your statements clear, memorable, and inspirational, you are making your statements accessible to each of your stakeholders, regardless of their position in your organization. You are giving them a guiding philosophy to use when making business decisions, because there are so many situations you cannot foresee, and for which you cannot possibly make a rule or regulation. Effective vision statements help shape the minor, daily decisions as well as the larger, longer-term ones. A vision statement communicates clear expectations, enabling and empowering your people tosolve problems effectively.

Example Vision Statements

Retail Product Vision Statement

“[Our brand] seeks to empower the self-esteem of young women by giving them a selection of fashion-forward styles made to enhancesizes 1-13 without overly sexualizing them. Our Fall Fashions offer a bold palette that flatters each of the four basic body types from head to toe, for $65 or less per outfit.”

Applying the Vision Statement

The example vision statement above offers a clear template for product designers to follow: it suggests the company’s philosophy of encouraging self-love and personal power of young women through wearing affordable, expressive (but not suggestive) clothing. However the statement is more explicit in its goals: the example clearly presents big-picture demographic information about the customer(s), as well as industry-specific customer descriptors (in this case, body size.) The statement sets the general tone of the creation, as well as specific goals for the products such as colors and price-point.

This information will be used to guide development from initial concept to design through production and even marketing.


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