A strong vision enables great creative work

When pursuing open-ended creative work, you can’t make a step-by-step plan to achieve your goals. Task-focused productivity strategies can’t help: the hard part is in figuring out what to do. In the fact of these challenges, it’s easy to lose motivation and direction. A strong (written) vision can offer both guidance and motivation.

A great vision should be compelling enough to get you excited, but it should also be grounded by the key elements of your approach to fulfill that yearning. You should understand powerful ideas about the tactics you’ll use to get there, and also the key areas of self-improvement you’ll need.

To quote from Michael Nielsen’s “Principles of effective research”, an effective vision offers “{clarity} about {what one wants to achieve}, {why one wants to achieve it}, and {how to go about achieving it}.”

Without clarity on these points, it’s easy to fall into Displacement activity: completing lots of tasks but never doing anything meaningful. But a sufficiently clear and compelling vision provides a motive force which can help us turn down quick wins for the slower (but more meaningful) slogs.

Such a vision is a living document, subject to constant revision and reinterpretation. It’s not meant to constrain future action so much as inspire it. Also: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything


Nielsen, M. A. (2004). Principles of effective research (Technical Note No. 0404). The University of Queensland.

Effective people have a vision of what they’d like to achieve. Ideally, such a vision incorporates both long- term values and goals, as well as shorter-term goals. A good vision answers questions like: What sort of re- searcher would I like to become? What areas of research am I interested in? How am I going to achieve compe- tence in those areas? Why are those areas interesting? How am I going to continue growing and expanding my horizons? What short-term steps will I take to achieve those goals? How will I balance the long-term goals with the short-term realities of the situation I find myself in?

Nielsen, M. A. (2003, September 8). Extreme thinking. Tough Learning, Brisbane, Australia.

The key to keeping this independence of solitude is to develop a long-term vision so compelling and well-internalized, that it can override behaviours for which the short-term rewards are significant, but which may be damaging in the long run.

Last updated 2023-07-13.