Company Vision Statement: Charting the Future

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Playing To Win" by AG Lafley. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to make a company vision statement? How do you envision the ideal future of your company?

When putting together a vision statement for your company, you need to consider not only what purpose your company serves, but also what winning would look like for your business. You need to think about more than what your company does, but why you do it.

Here’s how to chart the future of your company.

Envision Your Company’s Ideal Future

To put together a company vision statement, think about this: What is your company’s ideal future?

To answer this question, figure out your definition of success and what you want your company to achieve. The answer, your ideal future, can include a statement of purpose, but it’s not only a statement of purpose. It’s also a statement of what success—or “winning”—would look like at your company. Once a company understands what it wants to achieve, it can take clear and specific actions toward making its vision come true.

In their book Playing to Win, authors Lafley and Martin say that your goals must involve serving and pleasing your customers: If consumers like your company and your products, then you’ll naturally succeed in the marketplace. The authors add that focusing exclusively on internal issues (like profit margins, or marginal improvements to your products) will blind you to external market demands and make you less likely to reach your ideal future.

In other words, Lafley and Martin say that to figure out your ideal company vision statement, you have to determine what your business is really about—not just what you do, but why you do it. The authors say that, generally, companies will tell you their business is their product or service. In reality, though, all successful companies are in the business of meeting customer needs—the product or service is just the vehicle. For example, is a bar really in the business of serving alcoholic beverages, or is it providing a way for people to unwind and socialize? 

(Shortform note: In Start With Why, Simon Sinek tells us why it’s crucial to understand the reason behind your business: Your product or service (your what) engages people’s rational minds, but your purpose (your why) engages their feelings. He adds that emotion-based decisions are reached more quickly and are less prone to outside influences than logic-based decisions—in other words, if a customer buys a product just because they like it, they’ll make that decision faster and feel more secure in it than if they buy a product because they researched and compared numerous similar products and decided on the “best” one.) 

To figure out how to best serve your customers, first research what the customer needs, then tailor your company to meet that need better than anyone else.

The Three Perspectives of Business

Your customers’ needs are just one of three critical elements that must be addressed in a successful business strategy: 

The customer: Who is buying your product?
The investor: Who is covering your costs?
The producer: Who is making your product?

Many business plans fail because they only consider the perspective of the producer—the company making the product or providing the service. Such narrow business plans tend to gush about groundbreaking technologies and revolutionary ideas, but overlook the fact that they’ll need people to invest in those innovations—and, even more importantly, they’ll need people who want to buy them. 

That’s why Lafley and Martin say to begin with customer needs: First identify the need, and then determine how your great new innovation will allow you to meet that need better than anyone else does.

The Importance of Playing to Win

Lafley and Martin say that you must play to win because it’s hard to win. Many companies that want to win still lose. So, if you’re just trying to compete rather than dominate, you’ll have no chance at all—you won’t devote the time and resources necessary to stay in the game.

(Shortform note: In The 10X Rule, Grant Cardone also discusses the importance of trying to dominate rather than merely compete—but for different reasons: Cardone says that if you’re in a competition mindset, you’ll waste time watching your rivals and copying what they do, which is a recipe for failure. While Cardone does urge you to learn from your competitors, he warns against trying to emulate them or directly compete with them. Instead, with a mindset of domination rather than competition, look for the next great innovation that’ll let you completely bypass your competitors and corner the market.)

In any market, you’re naturally going to have competitors, many of whom will also have developed ideal futures and effective strategies to reach them. Therefore, Lafley and Martin suggest honing your strategy by identifying the competitor that is most formidable. Then ask: What are they doing that I’m not? How are they serving people better than I am? How can I overtake them? 

Note that your strongest competitor might not be the most obvious one. For example, if you’re running a tech startup, it’s unlikely that you’ll be directly competing with Microsoft or Google right off the bat. Your strongest competitor in that case might be a much smaller company that’s targeting the same section of the market as you. 

Respect Your Competitors

In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek suggests viewing your competitors not just as rivals, but as worthy rivals. It’s a fine distinction, but Sinek believes that it’s an important shift in mindset: Respecting your competitors’ abilities means that you won’t just try to win, you’ll work harder to become good enough to win. 

Imagine yourself as a boxer with an upcoming match. If you don’t respect your opponent, you won’t train as hard before the match—you won’t think it’s necessary. However, if you believe that your opponent is a worthy rival, you’ll be motivated to work hard and improve as much as possible before stepping into the ring.

As Lafley and Martin say, one highly effective way to improve your skills is to study your opponent, see what he or she does better than you, and use what you learn to shore up your weaknesses. 
Company Vision Statement: Charting the Future

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  • Why the cascade strategy will help you become victorious in your chosen field of play
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  • How to develop a system of decision-making for your company

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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