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Startup Vision [Design
Posted on March 16, 2017 @ 07:53:00 AM by Paul Meagher

In the lean startup literature there is alot of talk about validating the startup vision through Minimal Viable Products (MVP) and customer feedback. In today's blog I want to examine the phrase "startup vision" and why we use might choose to use this phrase.

I would argue that one good reason why we use the term "vision" is because a good startup vision can be visualized, as in represented graphically for others to inspect, share, and discuss. If it cannot be visualized, then another term should probably be used - the startup idea, the startup concept, the startup proposition, for example. This would make usage of the phrase "startup vision" more precise.

A large part of the human brain is dedicated to processing visual information. It is a highly evolved system for navigating and interacting with the world. It is arguably our most important sense. There is also lots of evidence that when we imagine things we engage many of the same brain areas that are used to process visual information. The hypothesis of shared brain areas helps to explain why we have the ability to vividly imagine and visualize things that don't exist in front of our eyes. It can also be used to explain why imagination is a powerful ability - it taps into our highly evolved visual thinking ability.

A virtuous loop can happen when we visualize the startup vision. Being able to see the vision expressed on paper or on screen can get our visual systems engaged in further problem solving and add more detail and specificity to the vision. Our ability to hold ideas in working memory is limited but our ability to visually process many items at a time is much greater. When our working memory cuts out our visual system can cut in and help us with longer chains of reasoning.

If I asked you to tell me what is involved in selling carrots to customers you might imagine someone planting a carrot seed, growing it, harvesting, washing it, and selling it to a customer. If we visualize the full cycle, however, we might stand a better chance of seeing that there are many additional steps involved that our conceptual appreciation omitted. Zach Loeks, in his new book The Permaculture Market Garden: A Visual Guilde to a Profitable Whole-systems Farm Business (2017), created this visualization of the carrot selling process:

Zach's book contains many such visualizations to help readers understand a host of ideas and processes. This particular visualization helps us to appreciate all the steps involved in the carrot sales process and allows us to think in detail about each step in the production process and, perhaps, how we might optimize or improve them. What I also like is that the visualization doesn't require excellent drawing skills to express the steps involved. This sketch looks like something many of us could create with some colored pencils.

Another aspect of Zach's book that is interesting is the use of color in all his visualizations. Often when we think of the startups vision we don't think of it as involving color, but why not? Bill Mollison, in his magnum opus, the Permaculture Designers Manual (1988), also had abundant visualizations but they were all grayscale line drawings. It is hard to make certain distinctions "pop" when you don't use color to code the differences you want to draw attention to. Color also contributes aesthetics to your vision which can also be important.

The purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the odd use the use of the term "vision" in the phrase "startup vision". Often when discussing the "startup vision" words alone are used to describe what the startup wants to accomplish, however, that does not explain why the term "vision" is used ("startup intention" might be better). When the startup vision is strong, the founder can see what the future should look like as if it is already in front of them and can also visualize it with diagrams, figures and line drawings, ideally with some color included as well. Perhaps we should reserve the term startup vision for cases in which actual visualizations accompany the startups intent to shape the future.

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