The Future Picture Technique: How To Communicate Your Vision Like the Military



The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” — John Scully

As a leader, how do you communicate your future picture, or vision, in a clear and simple way that people can follow?

Do you have a repeatable approach you can draw upon when you need it most?

Future Picture is a Technique for Communicating Vision More Effectively

Communicating your vision can be challenge.  What might be clear to you, might not be clear to others.  Or, worse, your vision might not even be as clear as you think it is.

Luckily, there is a proven practice for painting a clear, high-resolution, and easily communicated big picture of how you want the future to be.  It’s called a “Future Picture.”  It’s a practice the military uses to communicate a vision more effectively.  After all, the military is a great place to look, where vision has to be easily communicated, and easily understood.

Describe the Future with 12-Points

And lucky for us, James D. Murphy shares with us the approach he’s adapted in his book, Flawless Execution: Use the Techniques and Systems of America’s Fighter Pilots to Perform at Your Peak and Win the Battles of the Business World.

It’s a “12-Point Future Picture.”

You can actually use 12 key descriptors to create a detailed picture that’s easy to communicate and share.

It’s probably one of the best techniques I’ve ever seen for covering your bases, so to speak, when communicating your vision.

12-Point Future Picture

The 12-Point Future Picture is a multi-faceted view including a view of the inside, outside, the workforce, the culture, and even a financial view.   Here are the 12 points that Murphy outlines to create and clarify a future picture:

  1. Financial Position.
  2. Market Position.
  3. Business Areas.
  4. Innovation.
  5. Insider Perception.
  6. Outsider Perception.
  7. Workforce Characteristics.
  8. Brand: Yes or No.
  9. Corporate Culture.
  10. Corporate citizenship.
  11. Ownership.
  12. Incentive Philosophy

12-Point Future Picture Explained

Here is a brief summary of each of the descriptors in the 12-Point Future Picture according to Murphy:

Financial Position. Describe your company’s financial position as you would like to be in a reasonable amount of time, say three to five years. Will you measure internal rate of return (IRR), earnings, revenue, EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization0, or what?
Market Position. Describe your market position. Will you be a leader or a follower? Are you a fringe segment? Elaborate.
Business Areas What business(es) do you intend to be in?
Innovation. Will you innovate or use off-the-shelf technology? Is R&D part of your future?
  What is the insider view of the company? How do the various stakeholders view the company? Is it a good place to work, a good investment? Elaborate.
Insider Perception. What is the insider view of the company? How do the various stakeholders view the company? Is it a good place to work, a good investment? Elaborate.
Outsider Perception. What should the outsider perception be? A growing company, profitable, customer-oriented? Professional, competent?
Workforce Characteristics. What are the features of your workforce? What are their skills, special talents?
Brand: Yes or No. Are you going to have a branded product or a commodity product? Will you be an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to another company?
Corporate Culture. What is your vision of your corporate culture? Are you entrepreneurial with a minimum of bureaucratic layers? Are you productivity driven like Dell Computer?
Corporate Citizenship. What is your vision of corporate citizenship? Will you make a contribution to the quality of life in your communities? Why?
Ownership. Will your company be public, private, or have an employee stock plan?
Incentive Philosophy. What will your incentive plans be based on? Straight pay, shared risk, rewards based on results?

As you can see, it’s a pretty robust set of dimensions to validate your future picture.

When I need to share a vision with others, I do a quick self-check against this list. While I usually don’t have all the answers, it does give me a map of where I need to get more clarity.

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