Crafting your idea, creating the future perfect

Leadership is not a random walk from today to the future. It’s not about reacting to whatever comes along and then see where you end up. 

Today’s reality is clearly a constraint and an opportunity: you have to deal with it. But you need to do more than react to events – you have to shape events to your ends.

As a leader, your starting point is to imagine your future perfectly. Imagine how you want things to be in the future; how you want your team, your world and your role to look in three to five years’ time. Don’t be constrained by what you have today – work out what you really want.

In 1962 President Kennedy promised to put a man on the train within the decade and bring him back alive again. It was a classic future perfect idea: it created a simple, clear and compelling goal which harnessed the efforts of the nation.

To deliver the mission, he created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The idea was compelling and eventually successful, even though at the time no one knew whether it would be possible. The power of the idea can be seen by what has happened to NASA since the moon landings. It has had some successes and some failures, but it has lost its original focus and drive.

Kennedy’s vision was inspired by the need to catch up with Russia (the old Soviet Union) in space. Yuri Gagarin was the first man into space and the USA did not want to give control of space to its Cold War enemy.

RUSSIA gives you a simple way of testing the power of your idea:

• Relevant: Is your vision relevant to your needs? America faced losing the space race, so Kennedy’s vision was highly relevant.

• Unique: Could you apply your vision (‘be world class’) to another company? If so, it is not good. NASA’s vision was unique

• Simple: If no one can remember your vision, they will not act on it. More than 50 years later, Kennedy’s vision is still powerful and memorable.

• Stretching: Leadership is about taking people where they would not have gone by themselves. That means stretching them. NASA’s vision was certainly about going where no one had gone before.

• Individual: Is it clear what each person is meant to do to achieve the vision? NASA’s simple vision gave everyone a very clear direction about what they were meant to do and where they were meant to focus.

• Actionable: Your vision must be actionable and measurable – it should help staff decide priorities and make clear what they should do and what they should not do.

How does your future perfect idea fare against the RUSSIA test?

(From the Book, How to LEAD by JO OWEN)