October 8, 2019
On Vision and Being Visionary
Recently I heard someone say that somebody was visionary. In listening to the description, the person was described as seeing new ways to do things. The person talking about this visionary could have just as easily used the terms creative, innovative, or entrepreneurial to describe the person.
It made me think of how that being visionary is related to but does not perfectly capture the classical strategic planning definition of the term “vision.” Back in my teaching days, I would have my horticulture business management students develop business plans. I encouraged the students to have two visions. The first was external or customer focused. I asked my students to envision what their customers’ lives would be like as a result of their business. In other words, how is your business going to better the lives of the people your business serves. The second was internally oriented. I asked them to envision what their business would look like as they help their customers to improve their lives. I found that this two prong approach to vision made my students understand that the success of their business was dependent first and foremost on improving the lives of the people they served.
After thinking about this (I know. That’s dangerous!), I looked up the vision for the Cooperative Extension arm of K-State Research and Extension:
“K-State Research &Extension - Cooperative Extension will be the valued and trusted provider of Knowledge for Life and educational solutions needed by the people of Kansas, the nation, and the world.”
That is obviously more of an internal vision. It is pretty good, but what is the vision we have for the people we serve?
Our fundamental vision for the people we serve has not really changed since the Cooperative Extension system was first chartered. Roughly stated, our fundamental vision for the people we serve is that they will become better educated and more confident, competent, and engaged contributors to society.
Cooperative Extension initially achieved this vision by enabling people to be more productive and safe food growers and preservers. We still do that very important work today, but we also enhance the lives of the people we serve in so many other ways. Through education we help them to enhance their physical and mental wellbeing. We help them to beautify their homes and communities. We enable them to become better environmental and natural resource stewards. We enable them to manage their family resources better and have a better family life. We expose youth to life skills, careers and concepts that open doors to a host of new opportunities in their future. We empower the people we serve to enhance their leadership acumen to guide us to a better future.
Why do I bring this up now? I often have concerns and potential improvements brought to my attention. Those concerns are often focused on internal processes of our system. That is totally understandable. It is the world we operate in and that world does need improving. The trouble is, I rarely hear people directly discuss issues or ideas that will enable us to better educate the people we serve. Whenever I ask a question like “How does this issue (or idea) positively impact the lives of the people we serve?”, I often get a blank stare in return. Good organizations couch every decision in how it will affect the lives of the people they serve. Those that do not, become too internally focused and soon lose relevance among those they serve. We must not be one of those latter organizations.
Another reason why I bring this up now is that we will soon be gathering together at Annual Conference. The central theme of the conference is “Innovate!”, and we will allow ourselves and empower ourselves to be more innovative, creative and “visionary” as we discuss ways to improve our organization in the future. As we engage and “Innovate!” together, let’s keep the fundamental reason for our existence first and foremost in our minds. We exist to enable the people we serve to become better educated and more confident, competent, and engaged contributors to society.