Consider the following (my italics):
"You must know clearly who you are before you can tell anyone who you want them to think you are. . . A vision expresses a brand's place in its world. It articulates a brand's reason for being."
"Many people misunderstand the role of communication in business and politics today. In our over-communicated society, very little communication actually takes place. Rather, a company must create a 'position' in the prospect's mind. A position that takes into consideration not only a company's own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well."
(From Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries & Jack Trout)
If a vision "expresses a brand's place in the world" and positioning "takes into consideration not only a company's own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well", aren't those essentially the same thing?
So riddle me this. Which comes first - vision or positioning? Can you articulate a meaningful vision that doesn't have aspects of positioning creep into it? If your company is identified very closely with a single product or solution, can you really separate your vision from your positioning? Should your vision be pragmatic and acknowledge the realities of the marketplace, or must it be something more. . . visionary?
Here's my take - the vision should be provocative. It should challenge the status quo. It should be straight-forward and compelling. It should describe a destination worthy of effort and sacrifice. It should ring of truth.
When John Winthrop (1588-1649) wrote "For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill" he could not have anticipated that President Reagan would adopt it as his guiding vision. In his farewell address to the nation, Reagan illustrated the final quality of a good vision - you should be able to imagine a world in which the vision comes true:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.
So a vision is provocative, challenging, straight-forward, compelling, worthy of sacrifice, and above all, intuitively desirable.
Positioning is how you convince everyone that your vision describes a better way of solving their problems than someone else's vision.
Which only goes to illustrate why your vision shouldn't sound like this:
We envision to seamlessly simplify unique leadership skills so that we may endeavor to competently initiate timely benefits because that is what the customer expects.
You can't have credible positioning without a compelling vision, QED. And for gosh sakes, make the vision big enough to suck all the air out of the room. As someone much smarter (and much more funky) than I once said, "If you're going to rob a bank, rob a big one."