The blog of a thinkerer.
By @featureenvy

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Why Having A Vision Is More Important Than Anything Else

Do you know why we advance slower than we have some decades ago? Do you know that we went from the planning stage to the moon in 11 years? That is if you consider the time from the creation of NASA to the time we actually landed on the moon. But I think the most important part was the speech that President Kennedy gave*. He said
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth
Which is, as someone from that time would have put it: "Thy be insane?". Or something like that. Now we know better, of course, because the US had this vision. So how will having a vision help you? * Actually, the most important thing was probably the Germans. Because both the Soviet Union and the United States took, after World War II, rocket engineers from Germany to kick-start their endeavors. Yes, the famous rocket we all saw flying around were based on Nazi technology. So yeah…

So, A Vision, Any Vision?

Of course, not any vision will do. For example, saying "I will be one of the people in my circle that some people will know" isn't a good vision. So isn't "I will be the biggest site on the internet in 3 months". The first one isn't really something measurable, and, honestly, lame. And the second one isn't really possible to achieve. What makes a good vision? A good vision is measurable. For example, "I will have 2000 subscribers by the end of the year" is simple to understand, measurable, and we always know where we stand. But it isn't a vision yet, it is just a goal. A vision should be something that can never really be reached, but motivates us to continue working. A vision is something that we can strive for, something that is measurable, and something that is barely reachable. So, a good vision could be:
We will become the number one payment processor in the world with customers that just love us!
Ok, the love part is a bit hard to measure, but it is a good guideline. And I'm sure we could find some grad students who would love to study, well, love. Should we give this customer a refund? Without a vision, we don't know, and to some we may give, to others we won't, which will confuse the customers even more. But with that vision? The action is clear!

A Good Vision Is A Good Guide

A vision isn't just for suits, or for people who want to sell something to suits (read: a company). No matter what your project is, I will bet that having a vision for it will help you immensely. For one, we won't have to ask if we should show an error message, or if it won't annoy users more if we actually tell them that they are stupid. If the vision is to build the most robust, secure system, then yes, we should show a general error message. If the software should be the most usable piece of software ever written, then we have to redesign it so that this error can't possibly happen. If we write a command line utility for Linux, we don't even have to care about that. :) A good vision answers probably 90% or more of all the small questions we have while developing a new project.

Sit Around, It's Story Time!

For example just recently I started on a new project. The first thing I did was asking for a vision. And they just repeated: "Oh yeah, build this basic thing here, we can try to analyze the rest later, it will be fine." So I started implementing it. And lo and behold, it wasn't what they wanted. It showed error messages that were clear to us, but not to the expected user. It required things which seemed obvious to me, but which weren't actually needed. At all. Even though it technically did everything they asked, it just didn't match with their vision. And yes, by now I do have a vision for the project. Most people actually have a vision in mind, but they somehow don't want to spell it out. It's crazy!

Vision == Motivation

A vision keeps us motivated. That's all. Lets go to the next paragraph. Oh, you want some more details? Ok. Well, it's simple. We can code, and code, and code, but we will never "get there", we will never "get closer to the finished product". We will always be stuck in a rut. Why? We reach the next goal, so our boss just figures out a new one for us. It sucks! We don't see the end of the tunnel. But a vision changes that! With a vision, we suddenly have something to strive for. The goals suddenly aren't arbitrary points that the boss sets for us, but are actually real points that bring us closer to the ultimate goal. Which is really what we want. Because then, at the end of the day, we can say: "Yeah, I got closer to the vision, and people are even more happy!"

Steve Jobs, A Visionary

One of the things that I think is just amazing about Steve Jobs is that he always had a vision. Maybe his private vision was to be a jerk and still be considered a successful, beloved business man, and if it was, he would have succeeded. But even more amazing are his visions for the company. For example, before the iPhone, no one thought this will be possible. And Steve Jobs just said: "It is, do it!". Or as Steve (being a lot more eloquent than I am) would have put it:
Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products? The bar is pretty high. It has to be far better at doing some key things. We think we have the goods. Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.
Now that's a vision! If you liked this post, you should follow me on Twitter and signup for the RSS feed!