An open source approach to company vision

Your company has a vision, right? One that’s well-defined? Owned and understood by your whole team? Helping guide your business forward?

Sure! Probably… Maybe? Uh oh.

Don’t panic.

You’re not alone. Many organizations focus a lot on their mission (and don’t get me wrong, that’s important, too) without having a clear vision.

Put simply, if your mission describes your current actions and focus, your vision describes what it’s all for. What’s the ideal outcome of your actions? At the end of the day, what’s the point of your efforts?

A clearly stated vision serves as the guiding light for an entire organization—a North Star, always fixed along the horizon showing you the way.

A shared vision is the source code of your company’s culture.

In the world of tech—especially open source and SaaS—having a vision may seem like merely marketing mumbo jumbo. A fluffy, feel-good notion with no real-world application. A distraction from the stuff you should really focus on: building a great product, fixing bugs, chasing your next round of investment, and on, and on, and on.

Who’s got time to plan for the next 1,000 miles when the 100 feet in front of you are covered in potholes that need fixing?

You do.

Or at least you should. I’ll explain.

Founders keepers?

Too many tech founders keep their big vision to themselves. “The big idea started with me,” the thinking goes, “shouldn’t it stay that way?” Many CEOs mistake an ability to recognize a market opportunity for an ability to create and nurture a clear vision for the long term.

And that’s okay. Really.

Operating with an open source mindset means you get to draw from the talent across your organization. In our experience, company vision statements that are the byproduct of open collaboration are more likely to be understood, remembered, and shared.

A shared vision is the source code of your company’s culture.

Whether yours is a team of 10 or 10,000, invite participation across the organization to gather perspectives. Intentional inclusivity will help ensure your vision is authentic and resonates broadly—inside and out.

Founders might have to fight the tendency to keep a tight hold on their vision (“my precious…”). But they do so at their own risk. Keeping your vision to yourself may fill you with confidence and control, but just remember—that also means you’re the only one who’s going to see it.

So even if your open source project has the staying power to become the next Mesosphere, MongoDB, or Red Hat—don’t forget the open source principles that helped get you there.

Build your vision on a foundation of shared meaning so it can be a steadying influence—even as your products evolve, team members come and go, or the market changes around you. When your vision is born of shared meaning and collaboration, your entire team will look to it and recognize how they can help bring it to life . And the more people you have working toward your vision, the more likely you’ll be to eventually reach it.

New Kind Vision Day 2018

Over the course of many years leading the branding team at Red Hat, New Kind’s founders saw first-hand how effective — and profitable — an open source approach to building a company’s vision can be.

That same open spirit guides our efforts to this day. Each year, we dedicate a full day to our vision. We share stories and knowledge. We come up with new ideas and explore new perspectives. We revisit and refine our own company vision to ensure our trajectory is aligned with our goals.

(And hey, we can’t very well prescribe this advice to you without taking a dose of our own medicine, can we?)

Our friends at Guest House were gracious enough to host us for the day—a creative and welcoming environment to let our brains run wild with possibility.

We framed the day’s activities with a celebration of the previous year’s successes, and an honest discussion about what could be doing better.

We designed future magazine cover stories for headlines we’re sure to make one, three, even ten years from now. Look out Fast Company—we’re coming for ya.

We had tough conversations around the future of the company, who we actually want to be, and what impact we want to have on our communities and the world.

…And we had a boatload of fun.

But it’s important to remember that your company’s vision truly comes to life beyond the comfy confines of the team retreat. Armed with fresh enthusiasm and notebooks full of exciting ideas, we are collectively prepared to transform these intentions into actions.

Now the real work begins.

Parting thoughts

It’s easy to take your company’s vision for granted. To write it off as a nonessential Human Resources initiative. Or to endlessly push it to the back of the line in the face of more urgent priorities. Who’s got time for a 10-year plan when things are on fire right now?

Take a minute. Breathe. Odds are you think your software, your company, your people are going to be around for the long haul. You believe in what you’re building and the people you’ve assembled to build it.

You owe it to yourself to carve out some time to make your vision a priority. For all the reasons stated above and about a dozen I didn’t get to. Give your company a North Star to point to. Help people see their role in the bigger story.

Start by asking yourself a simple question:

In 10 years, when every target customer you’ve ever wanted is yours, and your company is a massive success—what will the world look like?

Start there.

Or better yet. Start here (that’s our Contact page). New Kind has brought our open source-inspired approach and expert perspective to many vision projects—for technology companies and organizations driven by open source values. We help uncover insights internal teams might miss. We translate complex, technical products and services into human language everyone can understand. We help bring your vision to life.

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