Vision versus Utopia
Consider a company, no matter what industry it belongs to. Before looking at its strategy—I mean, before you can formulate its strategy in a concise and systematic way, one that is able to drive and merge all the efforts toward a specific direction—you have to examine and take into account its guiding beliefs, and the initial spark that moves its founders and entrepreneurs. What is, in short, the business idea that pushes the partners and convinces them to invest and reinvest? There will be strong guiding beliefs. And usually, these convictions were born by an intuition, a vision. The more luminous is this vision, the more power the guiding beliefs of the company have, and the more potential its strategy has.
Searching for a wider definition, vision is the ability to think about or to plan the future with imagination or wisdom, or, again, vision is a mental image of what the future will or could be like—related, of course, to the specific field of application. Just as a practical example, maybe obsolete today but vivid and appealing, Nokia’s vision was effectively described by the slogan ‘connecting people’. Connecting people is not a strategy. It is a higher level of belief, a concept that must permeate the subsequent strategies (product strategy, competitive strategy, financial strategy, and so on).
When we think of Steve Jobs (Apple), Sergey Brin and Larry Page (Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) or Jack Ma (Alibaba), as the most popular and immediate examples, what we recognise first is the power of their visions. There are huge and incredible visions behind them, which gave rise to the birth of global companies able to change our lives and behaviours.
Going deeper into the analysis, the winning visions have common features: they are innovative, realistic and, furthermore, viable. They require long and hard effort but are attainable. They are possible.
These concepts are valid not only for companies that want to stay in the market and be healthy, but also for cultural associations, for example, and for nations.
Sorry for the long introduction, I apologise, but it was necessary to deal with a problem that is confusing our dialectic, our discussions and points of view. Immediately when we move from business to other fields, in fact, for instance to culture or politics, two concepts that are totally different become mixed up: vision and utopia.
Utopia is, literally speaking, an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. It is an ideal situation, a heaven on earth. More and more frequently, especially in politics, we are bombarded by utopias, while there is a terrific lack of vision(s).
What ultimately distinguishes a great statesman from a mediocre politician? The first one has a vision (a mental image of what the future will or could be like) and a strong determination or ability to attain it. The second is unable to conceive of a vision and is incapable of doing the right thing politically, and for these reasons seeks refuge in utopia, here and there, following the waves of what is politically correct and can be appreciated by the masses. Those who are not able to do even menial tasks speak of grandiose idealistic issues. And, unlikely as it may seem, many people follow them.
We are soaked by utopias, which become slogans, keywords, hashtags, empty declarations and, very often, ways to manipulate and deceive us, nothing else.
First we should ask ourselves what is the vision, since it must inform the policies, laws and measures.
What is the vision of Italy—for example—for the next fifteen years? Or of Sardinia, my country? There is no answer because there is no vision, unluckily. The day-by-day tactics is driving two wonderful lands to a dramatic decline.
To conceive a possible future, not a utopian one, is a hard job indeed, different from the effort to create only a slogan, a marketing flag under which to collect disoriented and confused people. You have to think in a very pragmatic way, forgetting ideologies and consensus, and only aiming at the best scenario, one that is innovative and viable. And then you have to fight for it, coherently. Think for instance about the reunification of Germany, conceived, wanted and reached by Helmut Kohl.
You see, when you analyse a company, the first thing that you look for and judge is its vision, its guiding beliefs. Yes, before its strategy, its system of product and the quality of its management and all the other components, you search for the light that illuminates its way and generates positive and lasting energy according to its strong guiding beliefs and a realistic target scenario. That makes the difference.
Why this long disquisition eventually?
Because in recent months, we have started again discussing culture (great!) and the best way to deliver it, as Italian expats. There have been and there are many initiatives by many bodies and heads, Beyond Thirty-Nine included. And everything is in a positive melting pot that is drawing attention to our incredible cultural assets. However, at the end, the impression is that something is missing, namely a common vision that can accelerate and improve the process. And we are proceeding in open order, maybe haphazardly, losing effectiveness and opportunities.
My suggestion is to reset everything and start again by asking ourselves: What is our vision? What are our guiding beliefs?
Otherwise, we will be weaker than what we could be, as usual in our history, and eventually forced—maybe by a selfish third party—to follow a manipulative idea or an utopian slogan like “Yes, we can!” without specifying what and how.