There is no Vision Without Conviction

For the past 20 years or so business leaders have derided the “vision thing.”  The world is moving too fast they say, there are too many moving parts and no one can anticipate what’s next.  While there is an element of truth to this, there is also an element missing: vision as an expression of conviction.

Two stories illustrate how there is no vision without conviction, one past and one painfully present.

Ten years ago William Ford, CEO of the auto company bearing his name, had a vision: a complete line-up of green, hybrid cars and trucks.  This was a time of low gas prices and high profit margins for SUVs and medium-sized trucks.  His management team talked him out of his vision and soon thereafter he handed the reins of leadership to the next and current CEO, Alan Mulally.  With Ford and other car companies scrambling to inject greater fuel efficiency into their line-up, it’s clear that Ford had the vision but lacked conviction.

In current events, everyone was shocked and saddened by the recent tsunami that hit Japan, costing 25,000 lives and creating a nuclear disaster it may take decades from which to recover.  And yet there was one village of about 3,000 residents, Fudai, that was in the cross-hairs of the tsunami and yet its residents barely got wet.  The reason: a 51-foot floodgate completed in 1984.

The mayor of Fudai at the time, Kotaku Wamure, was vilified for spending $30M (in today’s US dollars) on this floodgate. It was too high, too expensive and not needed, people said.  The floodgate was built as a result of his conviction that it was the right thing to do.  The concrete structure spanned 673 feet.

Today, this structure is credited with saving thousands of lives as the town of Fudai suffered only minor damage.  Wamure died in 1997 at the age of 88 and so never saw his creation in action.  Yet his conviction never wavered.  At his retirement party he offered advice for his town people and for leaders everywhere, true then and true now:

“Even if you encounter opposition, have conviction and finish what you start.  In the end, people will understand.”

Wise words that each of us can reflect upon.  I’ll close with two questions:

  1. Where does your conviction match your vision?
  2. What more can you do to advance what you feel is the right thing to do despite what others may say?

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