Networks for Change: Values Before Vision?

January 15, 2014 1 Comment

|Photo by Christian||


For the past year, Carole Martin and I have been co-facilitating a “network leadership program” supported by the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund called the Community Practitioners Network (CPN). The overall goal of CPN is to further develop a group of proven and promising leaders as individuals, as a cohort, and as “critical yeast and connectors” (my language, not the Fund’s) in support of community and economic development in a region that encompasses northern New Hampshire, northeastern Vermont, northwestern Maine, and southern Quebec.  Throughout, we have been actively exploring a variety of leadership and network development practices for growing personal and interpersonal awareness, connectivity, alignment, resolve, resilience, and skillfulness.  

In our most recent session, a two-day retreat in Pittsburg, NH, we engaged in discussion about and embodied practice of “vision.” Over the course of the two days, a robust conversation evolved about what makes vision powerful (in light of many uninspiring experiences) and its relevance in a networked world, in combination and contrasted with values. Some members of the cohort are experimenting with drafting a set of “network principles” that might be shared with others in the region, to align and bolster efforts to create more opportunities. One participant in that effort, Brendan Prusik, weighed in on the cohort’s collaborative site the other day with these reflections on the role of vision and values . . .

As we were leaving the other day, I suggested that the value of vision may be subordinate to values/principles/practices. I also suggested that vision is not always necessary. But I am re-thinking both in the context of scope.

When I left my brother’s company and began to look for value-driven work, I had to have a vision. As the unknown outcomes of change approach, a vision of what to do next is critical!

I think where we run into trouble with vision is when an organization tries to wrap up all of its identity into one vision. It may work for short periods like getting “three Honda’s in every garage” but long-term identity is defined by values. Projects where one can visualize the outcome being pursued may be appropriate for a vision. Carole also told us about the company who sets “vision” in very small time increments.

Perhaps with limited scope is where vision belongs. Vision is still critical with values at least equal to a set of principles and it is always necessary to get things done. I think we run into trouble, seeing a lot of eye-rolling, when visions are attempted to describe collective identity. Limiting vision’s scope removes my concern for losing broader perspective and allows us to check-in from time-to-time with the context of our reality to see what opportunities may be rising.

This is just “thinking out loud” so please feel free to hit me with your thoughts.

I (Curtis again) would add that there are some interesting examples of networks setting a rather simple, though by no means un-ambitious, goal with a set of principles to guide the path and behavior.  Check out these from the Vermont Farm to Plate Network.  

1 Comment

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    I am particularly intrigued by the connections raised between vision and collective identity. One of the potentially liberating aspects of a network over an organization or coalition might be the extent to which a network allows for alignment around a vision that need not capture one’s full sense of identity (either individually or organizationally).

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