The Shape of Business to Come

In August 1959, after several months in the studio, Miles Davis released his magnum opus, “Kind of Blue.” The album is excellence by any measure.

The recording sessions included genius saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. It is the best-selling jazz album of all time and regarded by most jazz critics as the greatest album ever.

At nearly the same time, Ornette Coleman, a far lesser-known artist and department store stock-boy headed into the studio with a plastic saxophone and a couple of like-minded musicians. They produced an album, “The Shape of Jazz to Come,” the sales of which were nothing remotely close to either of Davis’ albums released that year.

You may have never heard of Coleman. Because, for most people, listening can be tough. His approach to harmony and chord progression was far less rigid than any of his contemporaries. As opposed to following convention, he was interested in playing what he felt rather than predetermined chorus-structures or traditional harmonies.

Again, you may have never heard of Coleman. But, chances are, you have heard Coleman.

You have heard him if you have ever listened to jazz fusion, funk from the 70’s or even The Grateful Dead. That’s because Coleman’s vision was bigger than an album. It was bigger than jazz. His vision began with his point-of-view on the world. He was frustrated with systems of expression (bebop or blues-based chord progressions) which were insufficient for the truth he could see. He responded to what he saw as a shortcoming of the culture.

Currently, you are a creator or composer. You are much like both Davis and Coleman. If you are leading a team of people, you are charged crafting a point-of-view and a subsequent vision.

In many cases, business leaders conflate a vision (how the world will be different) with a mission (what it is you do). And vision statements tend to become political in nature — making sure that each player’s interest is covered or not offended: “At Company X, we are fun people who do great things.” Word constructions like these are often the reason people have antipathy for vision statements because they inspire nothing and feel like entropy. They are headed nowhere.

If calibrating the strategy of your company is of importance to you, there is a way to craft a vision without filling in a form. You can start by focusing your energy on one question: What is my organization responding to in my culture or industry? The depth of your answer speaks volumes about how you see the world and your role in it. This is — in human terms — your point-of-view. And that shapes your purpose and vision.

What is my organization responding to in my culture or industry?

At Bigwidesky, our point-of-view is that business is overrun with systems that have been helpful in achieving scale, but, at its core, business wants to be human. If a leader hopes to create a business that will have a successful future, then human business principles must animate its systems. So our vision is that one day “business is a vehicle for the awesomeness of humans.” This is not Pollyannaish. It is authentic to our reason for being. And armed with this, we can craft a strategic plan, company values and find those like-minded people who would join us.

Whatever vision-crafting path you choose will come with its set of cascading consequences. In shaping the vision for your business, I entreat you: start with a compelling point-of-view. If you know what you are responding to in the culture, you can find others — customers, vendors, partners — who will join you.

This is a courageous, legacy-creating way to approach an otherwise mechanical task.

Check out the full article in the February issue of Small Business Monthly.