Brian Mathews, the Associate Dean for Learning & Outreach at Virginia Tech, criticizes libraries and their approach to strategic planning in a white paper entitled Think Like a Startup:

“Many library strategic plans read more like to-do lists rather than entrepreneurial visions. With all the effort that goes into these documents I’m not sure that we’re getting a good return. You can easily pick out who wrote which parts: there is a section for public services, a section for technical services, something about information literacy, something about open access, something about providing service excellence. These are highly predictable documents.

They don’t say: we’re going to develop three big ideas that will shift the way we operate. They don’t say: we’re going delight our patrons by anticipating their needs. They don’t say: we’re going to transform how scholarship happens. They don’t attempt to dent the universe.”

But for many companies,  a vision and a strategic plan are two different documents . A vision statement tells the audience what the organization ideally wants to be. For instance, it’s probably not too far from the truth to say that Google’s vision is to provide the “perfect search engine” (something co-founder Larry Page has defined).  But that tells you nothing about how it’s getting there (which is what the strategic plan is).

Nitpicking aside, I know he’s saying that a lofty vision is what libraries need to work toward more than that other thing. He uses a less glamorous metaphor: Are you trying to build the best vacuum cleaner or have the cleanest floors?

Fortunately, I’m part of a forward-thinking organization (with both a strategic plan and the vision to guide it), but it works on a granular level too. Every day, I ask myself what the ultimate goal is for the course activities I design (or other tasks I engage with), and the hard thinking that sometimes follows really makes a difference–even if it is pride-swallowing.