We Had a Vision, It Guided Us And At First We Didn’t See It

Bill Cooper
, Chief Operating Partner

People say having a vision for a project or initiative is important.

I believe the same and have experienced first-hand how a sincere vision, that is adhered to, can propel a project.

I worked on the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and our vision, or at least an abridged version thereof, was to be Canada’s Games. For years it motivated us to think beyond the four walls of our organizing committee, beyond the city limits of our host communities, beyond the borders of our host province and beyond the boundaries of any constraining external challenges. We were directed by, motivated by and evaluated on a powerful vision. And in the end the streets of Canada were extraordinarily full of celebration on February 28, 2010. The Games had ultimately become Canada’s Games.

The funny thing about a vision is, often when you walk around a room full of people working on the same project and ask them about the project vision they rarely, if ever, repeat the identical statement the last person described.

A project I was involved in recently would likely have done poorly at any such interview test. Had you interviewed each of us six to eight months ago, I feel confident that no two members of our small team would have described our vision identically.

But I submit to you that we were motivated by a coherent aspiration which had us all pushing in the same direction and digging deeper than we would have had we not been aligned in our motivation. So how did we enjoy the benefits of a vision without agreeing to and memorizing one?

The project I am referring to, and which I had the great privilege to work on, was the inaugural edition of the HSBC Canada Sevens in Vancouver, the newest stop on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. It was a first-year event. And while the event may have been dealt a good hand of cards (proven format, great sport, great venue, etc.), its success is worthy of note because it became, in a relatively short period of time, a legitimate highlight on Canada’s annual entertainment calendar. It sold out, it attracted a strong sponsorship family, it earned prolific media coverage, it was given rave reviews by the athletes and it was enthusiastically embraced by fans and the host community. And that is a hell of a thing to achieve in a first year.

And I’m certain, that is in no small part due to our vision-albeit one we had not memorized, framed or put on the wall.

Our vision was to not just be the 10th new stop added to what was previously a nine-stop international circuit. We had the audacity to aim to be the best stop. The Hong Kong event is a 41-year-old tournament with decades of success as one of the most sought-after sport event destinations on the planet. The Dubai tournament is widely regarded as one of the best annual corporate hosting opportunities in the world of sport. The London tour stop has evolved into an unparalleled and epic weekend of fancy dress and unbridled festivity that takes the city by storm every year.

As a first-year tournament, our vision – to be the best stop on the Series featuring such well-established events – was audacious. And it drove us.

But before you go off and tell your colleagues working on whatever project you might be working on that you need to undertake a visioning session and identify a greater purpose for your project to rise to so that your team is motivated, coherent in their approach and impassioned by a unified goal – I need to share one more layer of insight.

In our case we never had a visioning session or an ‘aha’ moment. We never wrote a sentence on a whiteboard and spent argumentative (but collaborative!) hours debating the addition and subtraction of certain adjectives, verbs and nouns or refining the sentence structure. You might say we stumbled into a vision; or at least stumbled while guided by clear leadership and consistent adherence to a shared motivation.

What we did, is hear our Chairman issue a challenge to us on day one of the bid. He told us that if we were going to bid to host, we needed to not satisfy ourselves to be the tenth, or just the newest stop on the tour. He challenged us to be the best. The challenge resonated, we embraced it, we followed it and it evolved authentically into our vision.

So here is the thing. You need a vision. It doesn’t matter how you arrive at it. It doesn’t matter how eloquent the sentence is. It doesn’t matter how many hours you spend at the whiteboard drafting it.

What matters is that it resonates, it motivates and that you stay true to it.  What matters is that you have one.

So get one.