As a rule, we're fairly indiscriminate with our sources of insights and principles that can be applied to running a business.  Still, we didn't expect to learn much from a recent ESPN documentary that focused on Arnold Schwarzenegger's ascension from the Austrian armed services to Mr. Universe and beyond.

In the short film, Arnold recounts when he discovered his ambitious career path. His vision was that he would eschew the conventional route of his peers to pursue bodybuilding and movies. He said, "Here's the goal, and whatever it takes to get there, I will do."

Few of us are fortunate enough to have this level of clarity in the vision we set for our lives or our businesses. However, articulating a clear vision can provide a motivating force for you and your team. An additional benefit of going through this process is that it forces you to address tough issues such as what you have to believe to realize your vision.

Articulating Your Vision

The topic of creating a vision has been written about widely. Authors like Jim Collins in Built To Last suggest going out as far as 25 years to define what your company aims to achieve. Taking a long-term perspective allows you to be ambitious and bold. Hopefully, it also enables you to identify the underlying purpose or value of your organization. From there, you can start working backwards to form a tactical plan that informs how you should allocate your time and capital.

As you go through the process of articulating your vision, important questions to answer include:

  • What will it look like if I realize this vision?
  • Will that be satisfying to me and the people I work with?
  • How does the vision impact the team?
  • What investments will I need to make?
  • How much risk am I willing to take?

What You Have to Believe

At first, there will be an unresolved tension between the ability to achieve your vision and the uncertainties of the market. Instead of trying to predict the future, we find it useful to frame the path to your vision by using the phrase, "what you have to believe" in your analysis. Guided by a basic financial model, you can begin to forecast the potential impact of your strategic decisions. The assumptions that feed your model inform what you have to believe about the market and your strategy if you are to realize your vision.


Arnold's blueprint came in the form of a magazine article about someone he aspired to emulate (which, oddly enough, happened to be a bodybuilder starring in a movie). His resolve came from an innate desire to break the mold of his peers and family. Your blueprint and resolve can come from getting the vision right and effectively highlighting what you have to believe.

We urge you to take the time to get aligned on a vision. If you have 12 minutes to spare, watch the documentary. It's better than Arnold's other movies.

Share your thoughts and questions with us at

Avondale associate Steve Curtis contributed to this article.