On the 28th of August, 1963, there was a 16 minute event that changed one man’s life forever. In fact, 16 minutes is all it took for him to go from being a relative unknown to becoming a globally recognized face.
As a driving force behind reshaping America’s cultural mindset, this man quickly became an inspiration to millions of people worldwide. He was courted by the world’s most prominent political and business leaders, invited to dine with Kings and Queens, and asked to share his wisdom with the faculty and students at prestigious universities.
All sparked by 16 minutes of genius.
Most powerfully to me, this man – in 16 aspirational minutes – presented a lesson on what is – without doubt – the single most important ingredient in a strategic plan. Indeed, this ingredient:
- Inspires people to take action
- Creates a strong sense of loyalty and tribalism
- Acts as a catalyst for success and achievement
His lesson and the special ingredient he helped to popularize has since been successfully used by corporations, small businesses, political parties, charities, sporting organizations, sports teams, coaches and athletes. From Coca Cola, BMW and FIFA, even through to President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election campaign team – they all understand and appreciate how powerful this ingredient is.
And all it took was 16 minutes.
The man I am talking about? Martin Luther King, Jnr. And the 16 minutes of genius I’m referring to is the length of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, which was delivered at Washington Monument, Washington D.C. as part of the Civil Rights Movement’s March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom.
Held on August 28th, 1963, the March on Washington: “was one of the largest political rallies for human rights in United States history and called for civil and economic rights for African Americans.” (source: Wikipedia). Attended by more than 200,000 people, the rally also received extensive coverage on tv and radio, in newspapers and magazines, and became the genesis for a greater push for racial equality, which in turn led to the passing of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Martin Luther King, Jnr. was one of about a dozen speakers who featured at the rally that August day in 1963. But it was his speech that had by far the most impact.
So what was it about King’s speech that moved millions? And what is the crucial strategic planning ingredient that it highlighted?
To help answer these questions, let me firstly share with you three important sentences from the speech:
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Some inspiring stuff there isn’t it? And, in my view those three sentences highlight the key ingredient that motivates people to act, that drives success, and that is crucial to a strategic plan. It is:
An aspirational vision
So what is an aspirational vision? Let’s look at the term more closely. Aspirational derives from the word aspire, which means: “to long, or seek ambitiously; be eagerly desirous, especially for something great or of high value.” (Source: Dictionary.com). So when we aspire we are motivated to act to achieve or receive something great or of value.
And a vision? Some consultants, academics and authors define a vision as a long term goal. I see it as being far more than that. In a strategic planning context I define a vision as a visual representation or picture of the future, once the goal has been achieved. It is what the future looks like in other words.
For example, in King’s speech he communicated part of his vision with: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of the character.” So here he was presenting a vision of how society would treat his children when they were older.
Which leads me to this crucial part.
What makes a vision aspirational is the way in which that vision is communicated. Let me repeat that last sentence. What makes a vision aspirational is the way in which that vision is communicated. Let’s again get back to the King speech.
In King’s case, his vision was for a free America. But what made his vision aspirational was the way he communicated that vision in his speech. In terms of the speech’s content he used a variety of techniques such as anaphora and allusion. And in the delivery of the speech he effectively used pacing and intonation. The result was a speech that was clear, concise and beautifully delivered.
And let’s be brutally honest. Without an aspirational way of communicating his vision, Martin Luther King, Jnr. would not have had the impact he had. Instead, his thoughts and ideas would have had difficulty gaining traction, and may have even been quickly forgotten.
But, being the great visionary he was, King knew what he needed to do to move the masses in order to free America.
So the definition of an aspirational vision? It is a desirable picture of the future, which motivates people to act.
Your vision should be big, bold and far-reaching. However, there must also be a sense of reality about it. And, that sense of reality comes as a result of completing a proper strategic planning process.
The best way to create the aspirational vision? Spark your initial idea or vision first. Next form your strategy team and conduct your SWOT analysis. After that you identify and create a strong strategic position, concept and strategy, and its from this that you solidify your vision.
An important factor in Martin Luther King, Jnr’s success was the fact that the civil rights movement had been building momentum, so he was well-positioned to take advantage of that.
Why you need a vision
About 3000 years ago King Solomon wrote that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” He was highlighting the importance of vision.
And, in 1989 best-selling author, the late Stephen Covey, wrote that if we want to be more successful we need to, “Begin with the end in mind.” He too was highlighting the importance of vision.
A vision gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. On a professional level a vision can give direction to your business, organization or career. And a vision provides inspiration and an incentive for others to follow and support you.
Truth is, having an aspirational vision is crucial to the success of any endeavor you choose to pursue. And that’s why developing an aspirational vision is a key step in the strategic planning process.
Have you had the chance to read or see King’s speech? If not, you’ve missed out on something special. So special that in 1999 it was ranked as the speech of the 20th century in a poll conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A&M University.
Good news. Here’s a video of the entire speech.