What do bagless vacuums, budget airlines and The Great Escape have in common?

Human history provides countless examples of leadership be it in the political, economic or military sphere. But no two leaders are alike and some leaders have left a far more distinctive mark on history than others.

To lead other people you need to be able to communicate clearly. Indeed, many successful leaders such as Winston Churchill have been able to inspire others through the power of the spoken word.

But inspiration also requires another ingredient besides communication. It requires a vision.

Having a vision

The Oxford dictionary defines a vision as, “A mental image of what the future will or could be like”.

This definition is both very broad and very specific at the same time. Moreover, this envisioned future doesn’t need to refer to something grand like putting a man on the Moon.

James Dyson started his journey into becoming a household name with something very simple, “A bagless vacuum cleaner that never loses suction”.

Roughly at the same time in the 1970s another entrepreneur had another vision, of flying people across the Atlantic at rock-bottom fares and creating new markets in the process. His name, Sir Freddie Laker.

While back in WW2, Roger Bushell, the mastermind behind the Great Escape, had an even simpler vision, “Let’s get out of this prison camp!

It is important to remember that while a vision can be something as ambitious as winning a war or launching a new industry. The same principles can be applied on a much smaller scale as well. Be it when leading a team at work, when launching a small business, or when planning a charity event.

Defining a vision for your business

The first step in the process is to define a vision. Take a step back and think for yourself;

  • “Why did I take on this challenge?”
  • “What is unique about my idea?”
  • “What do I want others to get out of it?”

The answers to these questions will provide the first clues that will build up an image in your mind. Your image should be simple to understand yet detailed to an extent.

James Dyson’s vision was using the principles of cyclonic separation, well known in heavier industries to create a bagless vacuum cleaner that would never lose suction.

People were immediately able to latch onto this by imagining that they would never have to purchase vacuum cleaner bags again. Everyone could relate to Sir Freddie Laker vision too as the core of it was making flying cheaper and more affordable for everyone.

Once your vision is formalised, it’s time to beef it up by defining your strategy. By breaking your vision it into its components the simplest possible way.

If your vision is a tall building, your strategy are the building foundation and steel frameworks. Hidden from external view, yet essential as otherwise the building would collapse. It’s likely that this framework will be divided into several parts, each lying under the responsibility of another individual or team.

If the parts don’t fit together seamlessly, the vision won’t materialised. This is why simplicity and a bit of inspiration are key here. The first one because simplicity has a quality, but more importantly a clarity of its own. The second one because it is much easier to be inspired by something you understand and can relate to.

At this stage core values linked to the overall vision can also be defined. If your vision’s components are steel girders, core values are the nuts and bolts that hold the girders firmly together.

Harnessing the power of your vision

These values, or cornerstones, will be elements that can be used again and again to re-emphasise the vision and communicate it to peers or colleagues.

Don’t forget that the vision you’re working towards is unique, so harness this uniqueness to inspire and motivate your team and make them feel part of something greater than themselves.

People want something different and something that stands out; so be sure to communicate what is unique about your vision.

What was unique about James Dyson vision is that no bagless vacuum cleaner existed on the market at the time. Providing a better suction on the top was almost just an extra add-on, since not having to buy vacuum cleaner bags like one’s buys razor blades was attractive by itself.

Sir Freddie Laker also set out to do something that no-one had tried before, increasing the size of the air passenger market by offering cheaper fares and new opportunities to holiday abroad.

Roger Bushell, realised that individual escape attempts were futile. On the other hand though, a large group of men each kitted out with fake papers and civilian clothes might stand a better chance of making it to freedom.

Implementing your vision

Implementation is the third and final step of the process. This is where everything becomes more detailed and each constituent aspect of your vision can be broken down to its constituent parts.

Communication remains just as essential as before, so that each part fits seamlessly into a bigger whole. Which is why the easier your vision is to grasp, the easier it will be for others to consistently refer to it in the work they’ll be doing, and for issues to be solved collectively.

Turning the vision into a reality is nevertheless the riskiest and most work-intensive part of the overall process.

Dyson, Laker & Bushell – their inspirational visions

James Dyson’s vision of a bagless vacuum cleaner succeeded after many fruitless attempts and a lot of effort. His company’s has since extended the principle of using technological solutions to make daily lives easier by branching out to other markets.

A strong emphasis on quality of design and engineering remains what the company and his founder are known for to this day.

Roger Bushell’s gamble of a Great Escape succeeded in allowing dozens of men to escape. The scale of the enterprise, with its three tunnels, underground workshops and forged papers by the dozens, still stands as a fantastic testament to the power of mankind to thrive in the direst of circumstances if animated by a vision.

Sir Freddie’s vision is noticeable in the sense that it was ahead of its time and was ultimately implemented in full by others. It also highlights the importance of having the means to turn a vision into reality.

His transatlantic, no-frill Skytrain service was profitable shortly after its launch, until a recession and lack of market capitalisation paid put to it. Attempts to expand the service beyond the UK-US market met with opposition. As did his later idea of a pan-European Skytrain between the major cities of Europe.

Coming at time where the airline industry was still heavily regulated both within and outside of the UK. His ideas were simply too far ahead of their time and he didn’t get his finances right.

Nevertheless, the enthusiasm generated by his airline was such that when faced with bankruptcy members of the public donated £1m in a final attempt to keep the airline afloat.

Sir Freddie’s vision would live on to be turned into reality by EasyJet and Ryanair as the regulatory environment changed. A testament to the fact that if you can’t get the implementation right, your vision will be fulfilled by someone else.

So, what is your vision

One can say with some certainty that all great leaders are builders. All great buildings and monuments started off as a vision in the corner of someone’s mind.

So ask yourself, what is your vision for your startup? What’s your dream for your business? What do you want to build? Remember that it can be as big or small as you want it to be.

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Florian Bay, a Toastmasters International member living in London. He is currently Area Director coordinating six clubs in the City of London and President of two clubs including London Victorians whose foundation he spearheaded a year ago. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. To find your local club visit: Toastmasters.org

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