Visualization to Execution: Bridging the Gap

Over the past couple decades we’ve become more aware of high-performance athletes hiring sports psychologists to help them visualize their success. I don’t golf very often (with predictable results) so I’ve concocted a story for my golf friends that I’m spending all of my non-golf time visualizing my eventual success. However, despite spending time visualizing my long tee shots splitting the fairway, or my soft approach shots settling quietly near the cup, my actual game is, shall we say, something short of my vision. How to bridge the gap?

Innovation is an act of creation, but to borrow a concept from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits book, any act of execution – a product introduction, a management effort, a new business process – is inherently a second act, with the first occurring in the imagination.

Some time ago I was working for a privately-funded technology company that had been negotiating with an industry behemoth to establish a strategic partnership. When I got involved, the negotations had dragged on well past my company’s expectations and the legal bills were through the roof. Worse, the initial euphoria about the idea of the partnership had waned on both sides.

One of the first things I did when I got involved was to write a faux press release that I circulated internally among the key stakeholders that purported to announce the partnership to the industry, and invited comment.  Given how little time it took for us to agree on what a perfect (but realistic) press release looked like, along with supporting quotes, it turned out to be a great use of time, and helped bridge our own visualization gap in the following ways:

Goal congruence. Once people had a chance to read and agree with the substance of the release, we had a fixed point toward which we could all march. This is a big deal, since most innovation is a group effort, not an individual one.

Rekindled enthusiasm. Habit number two in Covey’s book is “Begin with the End in Mind”. Not only did the release establish a fixed point we could march toward, it also was a fixed point we all wanted to arrive at. This helped us see past the obstacles that were still in front of us.

For some more color on how we got this deal turned around, go here.

The faux press release method is just one of many ways to bridge the gap. The are more substantantial and important visualization techniques for product organizations, such as the creation of personas to represent your target customer, or creating visual product specifications to show how users will interact with your product. I personally think in terms of stories, and am surprised by how few marketers and salespeople simply explain their offering through a “day in the life” story that a listener can relate to.

Thomas Edison once famously said that “vision without execution is hallucination”. He didn’t mean vision isn’t important, but that successful people figure out how to move from one to the other. It isn’t hard to find material today designed to help us move from the first act (imagination) to the second (execution), but I sense that too much of it is focused on motivational exhortations and time management practices rather than tangible visualization techniques.

Another benefit: by engaging in tangible visualization techniques, we might better control our expectations and tamp down the entrepreneurs’ tendency to be too optimistic in light of reality.  No faux press release is going to turn me into a scratch golfer.

So draw a picture. Write a story. Create a press release.

Note that none of these are passive. They are active and require you to pick up your number 2 pencil and get to work. Good luck!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are not constructive, excessively snarky, or off-topic.

  • jamesoliverjr

    What happened to the partnership after you made that press release?

    • Michael Diamond

      Hi James – the press release was theoretic only – it never saw the light of day. Of course, once we got the partnership established, there was a legitimate press release that involved both marketing teams. The key was that the real press release was directionally consistent with the “fake” press release we had written for ourselves several weeks prior.

  • Michael McBrien

    I have seen you golf. I have to say, your last putt on every hole always went in. (Unless we gave you one). Another thoughtful article. You have to keep your eye on the big picture to keep moving towards it!

    • Michael Diamond

      Thanks Mike. Thank you also for pointing out my putting prowess. I seldom putt more than 3 or 4 times on any given hole.

  • Fritz Hesse

    Thanks Mike. This reminds me of a framework I learned
    which I like to use when my teams are defining new initiatives. Two key
    questions are asked which serve to align the goal and actions, as follows:
    “By what method?” and “By what measure?” The method question
    naturally helps solidify the teams understanding of steps required and planned.
    The measure question creates a compelling reason to more specifically define
    and quantify the definition of success. I find that it is a useful approach
    to serve in the visualization conversation and makes paramount the need to
    prioritize objectives.

    • Michael Diamond

      Awesome! I’ve learned something new today! “By what method?” and “By what measure”. I’m going to try and remember these. Thanks Fritz.