Where Does Vision Come From? (My TV interview thoughts)

by Lane Wallace on April 27, 2012

So there I was, in sweats, covered in dust and cobwebs, attempting to make progress clearing out 50 years of accumulated papers and stuff in my parents’ house in New York (I’m working at getting them cleared out of there and moved up to Massachusetts, which also accounts for why more writing and posts and stuff like that isn’t getting done this spring) … and I get a message from the Canadian Broadcasting Company (which seems to be Canada’s version of CNN) saying they want to interview me on TV. In a studio. In 5 hours.

Seems I’d written a piece for TheAtlantic.com a year earlier discussing whether “visionary” leaders like Steve Jobs are born or created. My conclusion was that although some people are more naturally inclined toward creative vision than others, there are many factors in someone’s childhood and life experience that can make them more inclined to become a visionary leader or entrepreneur. What’s more, there are also steps adults can take to enhance our “visionary” ability, regardless of what influences we had as children.

The week that CBC called me, the two founders of the Canadian company Research in Motion, the company that developed (and still sells) the ubiquitous Blackberry phone/communication device, had been summarily fired by the company’s Board of Directors. The board felt that the founders didn’t have a vision that could compete with the iPhone revolution (and, indeed, the company’s market share was plummeting, even though the Blackberry was still better at secure communication than any other “smart” phone). The producers at CBC saw the piece I’d written for The Atlantic, and thought I might have something to say on the subject.

In truth, I DO have thoughts on the subject. I also think it’s a really important subject–not only because I think the world needs more leaders with vision, as opposed to managers cowing to the near-term demands of stock market analysts, and hanging on to number-crunching as a way of guaranteeing future results (which doesn’t work, by the way, which is why NASA actually flight tests new aircraft designs. Known data, they say, cannot extrapolate into an unknown place, whether that’s the future, or an unknown new design, new environment, or even new market or world situation (to go beyond NASA aeronautics).

I think it’s important because so many people lack the confidence to step outside a proven course, even if they’re unhappy with the current course they’re on, and imagine a better vision for the future, then test that vision, link it to real plans, and commit to trying to make it real. I also believe nurturing visionary ability in people is important because it is impossible to change the world or create something new of value without it. In other words, vision is an essential precondition for passion, and passion is an essential precondition to any entrepreneurial, social or world-changing effort. (Even if the “world” changed by that effort is local.)

Oddly enough, vision is a bit of an endangered species in the established business world, because trying something new always involves risk, and when a company gets established in the world, with stockholders who want stable returns but don’t understand that if the company never tries any bold, new ideas, those returns won’t last, even a visionary leader may find themselves fighting for cooperation or survival. This is why a lot of really bold, new ideas are developed by start-up entrepreneurs and private individuals or companies that don’t have to answer to stockholders.

Anyway. The CBC finally succeeded in persuading me to drop what I was doing and do the interview–mostly because while it was really inconvenient timing, I thought it was important to get some of those thoughts out there. Even if it was only in Canada.

Given that it was a TV interview, I also managed to be uncharacteristically succinct and to the point. The interview is still on the CBC’ website, and it’s only about 5 minutes long, if you want to take a look at it. (I appear about 7 minutes and 40 seconds into the show.)

Vision, passion, and how we all can get better at finding visions that inspire our best passions will also, I am sure, be something I talk about more on this site in the future. And, who knows? Maybe other places, as well!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Craig 05.09.12 at 4:49 pm

Great interview and thanks for introducing me to Mark Kelly’s show!

2 Rick 05.23.12 at 5:17 pm

Being a visionary is difficult. The idea or new viewpoint is often seen as negative by those in the organization, as it typically involves change, uncomfortable to many people, and could ultimately impact people’s position and influence in the organization. It is incredible how much energy can be invested by those other parties to subvert the vision. Eventually, the visionary can get worn down or ultimately lose credibility. For that reason, it is often a position that is not a long term proposition for any one person. The ebb and flow of the economics external to the organization often result in this process being put on a back burner for a long time, until an event (or business transaction) triggers the need for “vision on demand”. However, the end result of that vision might be the proverbial “paving the cow path” as opposed to a new path. I would suggest the people in the role of visionary must spend at least half of their time selling the need for the vision to the decision makers, and only half their time actually developing the vision. A vision without a sponsor is as good as no vision at all.

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