imagesThere is a great Peanuts cartoon that exemplifies the problem of competing visions. In it, Lucy is talking to Charlie Brown.

‘Charlie Brown, life is like a deck chair on a cruise ship. Passengers open up these canvas deck chairs so they can sit in the sun. Some people place their chairs facing the rear of the ship so they can see where they’ve been. Other people face their chairs forward – they want to see where they’re going. On the cruise ship of life, which way is your deck chair facing?’

Replies Charlie, ‘I’ve never been able to get one unfolded.’

While RIM’s problems of competing visions are well publicized, the problem seems to be a staple of today’s environment.

  • Microsoft’s board is now feuding with Gates and considering removing him as they feel he has too much influence.
  • Dell has just won his fight with Icahn over the future of Dell Computers.
  • The US is mired in a fight over what role government should play in a free society.

Vision intransigence and competition are not something new but seem to be growing in business. As the role of the company founder diminishes, boards have no clear person to turn to to foster a new vision. Their problem is one of building a vision around shareholders or around customers, or have some have done it, around employees.

When there are founders running private companies, vision is clear and the responsibility of one person only. When the company is public or the founder is no longer there, does the CEO really own the vision? In theory yes, but that isn’t always the case.