Dan Johnson: Vision, strategy and fishingWritten by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
If I have learned one thing during the past quarter century, it is that an enlightened vision, combined with a reasonable and logical strategy, is a very powerful tool. Such a vision provides direction, motivates people and organizations, and increases the odds of success for individuals as well as companies, corporations and whole communities.
Authors and experts encourage us to write out our vision in what we now call a “vision statement.” A vision statement is more than an expression of hope, although it is that; a vision statement is an expression of one’s expectation and a commitment to work diligently to achieve it. What do we expect of ourselves? Our company? Our university? Our city? Our expectations are of our own making and we have the power to shape them as we will. But vision alone — even a well-articulated vision statement — does not guarantee we will meet our expectations or reach our desired destination. We also need a strategy — a reasonable and logical strategy.
As a boy growing up in southern Ohio, I was lucky to have a dad who loved to fish. I can remember several all-nighters sitting with him on the banks of a river or lake with a lantern, minnow bucket and tackle box waiting for the fish to take our bait. And many did. These were wonderful experiences that have left me with great memories. As time permits, I continue to enjoy grabbing my tackle box and making my way to the water’s edge to see what luck I might have.
I have often thought that economic development is a bit like going fishing. There are those who tell stories about fish jumping into their boats; I’ve even seen videos that validate these strange tales. But few if any of these lucky people would argue that to catch fish one merely needs to cruise around the lake and the fish will jump in. Luck is not a reliable strategy.
Then there are opportunists who bring a half-dozen or more fishing poles with them, using all kinds of bait and techniques to catch anything that comes along. The outcome is usually mixed, with different kinds and sizes of fish, including some that my dad called “trash fish” that we had to throw back. We put a lot of time, effort and resources into this time on the lake. Our mixed catch put some fish on the table but often they were not what we would have hoped for or preferred. Some were small, some not so tasty and others full of bones.
During our years in Alaska, I watched and learned about a different kind of fishing. The anglers there were what one might call “strategic” fishermen. They knew what kind of fish they wanted to catch. They also knew the kind of equipment and technique needed to land the king salmon or heavy halibut. And, they knew where and when to go to guarantee success. They had thought about, planned and prepared for these fishing excursions and seldom did they return empty-handed.
Economic development, like fishing, starts with a vision of what could be. Every fisherman casts into the lake or steps into his boat with the expectation of catching the “big one.” There is the vision of success, the envisioned future. It motivates, inspires and moves us to action.
A well-articulated vision for Toledo and Northwest Ohio will motivate, inspire and move us to action. It gives citizens a glimpse of a desired future. In the words of authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, it is what “we aspire to become, to achieve, to create — something that will require significant change and progress to attain.”
What is the vision for the future of our regional economy? Who has the responsibility for articulating this vision and developing the necessary buy-in for the broader community and region? To push my fishing analogy a bit further, we are all in this boat together. Can we come together to achieve a general agreement on the direction we should be going? Are we willing to work together to achieve our common goals? To communicate, coordinate and collaborate with the objective of achieving our vision for the future of Toledo and Northwest Ohio?
Like successful companies or progressive cities, Toledo needs a clear vision of its desired future, pragmatic strategies and a broad-based commitment to implement those strategies. It seems to me that we are ready but we need to know where we are headed.
Dan Johnson is director of global initiatives, president emeritus and distinguished university professor of public policy and economic development at the University of Toledo. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.