World Building: a strong vision for persuasive leadership

Do you work on a digital product with multidisciplinary teams? Are you leading an organisation through a difficult digital transformation? Then you know that it’s extremely important to get everyone on the same page. The classic method to achieve this is to formulate a vision and a mission. These are then supplemented with a set of core values, targets and KPIs. And voila! Everyone knows what the objective is. Or is it more complicated than that?

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General visions offer little support to the organisation

As a leader, you know better than anyone how to give structure and direction to your organisation. One way of doing this is by communicating clearly and effectively. However, it’s difficult to tell your story in such a way that it is relevant to everyone in your organisation. One possible solution is to speak in general, abstract terms and keep it short. Then each department or person can fill in the details themselves, depending on their specific situation and needs.

Yet communication at the highest level of abstraction – the vision – falls short if it provides no direction for responding to matters of principle or ethical issues. And you often encounter these in software development. For instance, consider digital fraud detection and automated pre-screening for recruitment. When building such systems, you have to be careful to avoid discrimination, controversy and damage. Often in their careers, software developers and designers hear ‘Just do what you think is right.’ or ‘What costs the least and delivers the most?’ Thus, they are left to their own devices or even unintentionally steered in the wrong direction.

You might think that a vision is of little use, and a leader must focus on the details to ensure that everything runs smoothly. That would be a pity and entirely unjustified because a vision is an enormously powerful tool. A vision can capture your attention and steer you in the right direction. Provided, of course, that your story is a compelling one that appeals to the imagination.

How do you create a vision that benefits your team?

The answer is simple: fiction. Think about how books, series, films and games are created. The story is the foundation. The creator makes sure it’s entertaining and clear, which is why it sells. Fiction can help you clarify your vision. To give an example, philosophy teachers around the world draw a comparison between the film The Matrix and philosopher Descartes to explain to students that you can look at reality in a different way. So fiction is not only entertaining, but it helps your brain contextualise new information.

You too can use fiction by applying the right techniques. When you do that, you make your vision specific and rich in detail. This ensures that it is credible, inspiring and motivating, and that everyone can work with your story in a practical way.

This technique has a name: World Building

World Building is used by authors, game designers, scriptwriters and storytellers to create the fictional worlds in which their stories take place. This world is filled in with broad concepts like geography, population and history. Details are then added to create a holistic picture of the fictional world. This gives the events in the stories a location and therefore a context. It also makes the characters’ actions and motivations more plausible.

Applying World Building to the success of your digital innovation

World Building is a highly effective tool to help leaders establish a vision. This can be at the highest level of an organisation or for specific issues, like digital innovation. Digitalisation can be a blessing or a curse, so it’s essential to look ahead and consider the future scenarios.

In World Building, you describe the world as you know it, but in 15 years’ time. So you create fiction, but you base your story on reality. Credibility is essential, so there must be enough recognisable elements. In addition to themes that are directly relevant to your strategic plans and targets, you should think about broader themes. Consider hot topics like freedom of expression, property rights, privacy and climate change, because they irrevocably affect the society and market in which you operate.

Is 15 years too far away for you, and would you rather talk about a more immediate future? Certainly you can, but then reason back from the future as it will be in 15 years’ time, so you don’t miss out on themes that will help determine the survival and success of your digital innovation.

Start World Building now

Do you want a strong start for your digital transition? Do you want to share your vision with the expert development teams who are building your product, to give them context and inspiration? With World Building, you lay the foundation for your digital agenda and the roadmap of your IT department. Please contact us if you would like a no-obligation brainstorming session to see if the World Building technique works for your digital innovation challenge.

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