Monday, December 23, 2013

The vision thing

We save lives.
George H.W. Bush was a practical, nuts and bolts kind of guy, I suppose. He was a fighter pilot in World War II, and I'm told that pilots tend to be more mechanics than poets.

So maybe it was unfair that we all jumped on him when he uttered the vision sound bite.
In the January 26, 1987, issue of Time magazine, journalist Robert Ajemian reported that a friend of Bush's had urged him to spend several days at Camp David thinking through his plans for his prospective presidency, to which Bush is said to have responded in exasperation, 'Oh, the vision thing.' This oft-cited quote became a shorthand for the charge that Bush failed to contemplate or articulate important policy positions in a compelling and coherent manner. 
The phrase has since become a metonym for any politician's failure to incorporate a greater vision in a campaign, and has often been applied in the media to other politicians or public figures.
As someone who once led a small group trying to craft a vision statement for a global corporation, I sympathize with the former president. I can't remember what we came up with. I remember at one point I suggested: "Him with the most cookies wins."

I'm pretty sure the CEO took what we crafted and stuck the word profitably in there. He was big on reminding us that we were there to make money. Which, in the end, we didn't do, despite whatever our mission statement was, which is why the company went bankrupt. We didn't have the most cookies.

One day as our little group was hard at work, an executive stuck her head in the door and asked what we were doing. We told her. She said, well, I just bought frames for our current vision statement and they're hanging in every office around the world. If you write a longer statement, it won't fit in the frames.

One wonders how any company can ever make any money.

I did some research on mission statements at the time, and I recall one from a motorcycle helmet company: "We save lives." I recall that this was printed on a giant banner and hung over the assembly floor. I can't find a reference to it today, but I put it forth as an excellent example. It had to have inspired the employees, everyday. It elevated molded plastic to a higher plane.

Looking for it today, I came across a company that makes body armor. Safariland's motto is "Together, we save lives." I don't know to whom together refers; maybe buyer and seller. If they pay me a lot of money, I'll suggest they lose that word; they don't need it.

I think this is probably a pretty cool company. From an editor's point of view, however, I had to read a good way into its history to figure out that it sold body armor and other cool stuff. Okay, only an editor would fuss.

One real good thing: the company has documented 1,800 lives saved by its armor. That's way cool. That evidence is far more eloquent than any amount of cliches blended and extruded into a vision statement.

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