20/20 vision starts to blur

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee recently announced that the UK is likely to miss its 2020 renewable energy targets for heating and transport. Not great news. It also begs the question: what else might not happen by the end of this decade?

A cursory Google search suggests 2020 is going to be a seminal year for the human race. Everyone seems to have a vision for it. The first two pages of search results are dominated by public declaration of targets, achievements and prophecies from the likes of Sainsbury’s, EY, The Church in Wales, the former Mayor of London and the British Library.

Who knows, maybe one Donald Trump will even win a second term in 2020? That’s something that very few would have predicted a couple of years back.  

Numerous commentators have been quick to point out the poisonous consequences of political leaders that are willing to consistently ignore the truth. Trump’s questionable relationship with accuracy and the Brexit campaign’s contentious claims have left the phrase “post-truth world” ringing in our ears.

So should we be worried if the corporate world’s numerous 2020 targets are only partially met and its visions left unfulfilled and unaudited? Does outlining and promoting a vision increase the public’s expectation that it will become a reality? Is a leader guilty of “post-truthness” if bold targets are communicated with fanfare and then future delivery against them falters?

These are delicate questions. Organisations that lay out an ambitious vision and then deliver on a plan to reach it should be applauded. Progress is built on such foundations. The stock market is shaped by the principle of delivery on expectations. Equally, nobody should be chastised for trying and failing. A business which backs rhetoric with action is perfectly built for success - and a positive reputation - in today’s transparent world.

Yet – and I look around nervously at my colleagues as I write – visions which remain nothing but PR exercises, arguably, pose similar dangers to political grandstanding. Hands up if at any time during the past 10 years you’ve pitched a 2020 Vision to a client simply because the pun felt irresistible?

No one is as culpable as political populists in putting sentiment ahead of fact in creating a “post-truth” world. However, if you’re currently thinking about a 2030 vision for your business, perhaps just pause and reflect on the fact that a future based on truth is one we all have a responsibility to create.