Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Who Is The Visionary?

One morning last week before work, I got into a discussion on Twitter with Tom Peters and several others on the meaning of the term "Visionary" as it is applied, particularly to business leaders, but the conversation morphed into discussion of George Washington, Steve Jobs, and various others.

As we progressed, my thoughts tended to align with the idea that visionary is a term that gets applied retroactively to describe those who accomplished great things. As you can see in my tweet above, that can, in my opinion, in part be attributed to the objective of those using the term. Journalists, Biographers, and others who label individuals as visionaries are typically those telling the story of someone's life.

Outside of the story of Thomas Edison, the idea that repetitive failure leads to eventual success does not have the same ring and zing from a plot perspective when telling a cool story as the idea of a visionary, some future-seeing guru with a unique and uncanny ability to perceive trends and not-yet-happened events. I think the storytelling tends to be flawed there, though, for a few reasons:

  • It hides the work - Terms like "visionary" and "genius" often get used to explain great success in terms that almost indicate it is easy for those people to succeed. I'm not certain that anyone (including visionaries) finds it easy to succeed. 
  • It downplays action - Steve Jobs was a success because his company made great products. Not just because he had a vision for them. Vision by itself does not hold much value. While the vision may inspire other to action, it is only through that action that value is created and results are achieved.
  • It is rarely a forward-looking term in itself - very rarely are visionaries branded as such before they have achieved the results of that vision. So if they can predict the future, how are they not clearly identifying one another, even?
All in all, though, the net is that actions speak louder than words, visions, or ideas. If you have a vision for a better world, go and do something about it.

What are you going to act on today? Follow me on Twitter and let me know.