Frank Furedi

Professor of Sociology at University of Kent, and author of Politics of Fear, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?, Therapy Culture, Paranoid Parenting and Culture of Fear.
 
       
 

Hollow words: 'Vision'
Is this a mission I see before me?

Vision is a bit like sex. The less we have it the more we talk about it. No corporate handout or public service briefing is complete without a section entitled "Our Vision". But don't expect to find anything that approximates prophetic insight or a highly imaginative scheme.

Institutions flag up their vision in order to endow the banal with a dose of meaning. So what is BT's stated "Vision"? The aspiration to "get close to customers". Barclays Bank's vision is to build a "world-class organisation". "Our vision is to be a leading supplier of energy," declares Centrica. For the BBC it is to "excel at the creation, marketing and selling of brands".

These are not visions to behold. They have little to do with a leap in imagination. That is why these days everybody appears to possess the capacity for vision.

A real visionary like Jules Verne could transcend the limitations of his time and see the outlines of the future. Today we appear to inhabit a vision-free public world where recycled business plans are promoted as specimens of creative thinking. With so much meaningless rhetoric surrounding this issue it is not surprising that the first President George Bush was moved to dismiss what he called "the vision thing". At least his unconscious acknowledgement of the absence of inspired ideas has the merit of honest philistinism.

Of course publicity-conscious corporations do not have a monopoly on peddling visions. In medieval times, charlatan hustlers did a brisk trade in visions. But their visions had class. A statue dripping blood or a NHS mission statement? I know which one I would choose.

First published on The First Post, 5 April 2006