“The visionary starts with a clean sheet of paper, and re-imagines the world.” – Malcolm Gladwell, Canadian writer and theorist.
Over the last two decades, authors have written hundreds of books and articles about how and why leaders must be visionary thinkers, able to pull reasonable expectations of the future out of their crystal balls and implement plans to guide their teams appropriately. But why don’t more publications urge all team members to act as visionaries?
This lack of initiative probably stems from fossilized ways of thinking. Both leaders and business theorists have begun to realize the roles of team leader and average worker have begun to converge, at least within the white-collar sector. Leaders more readily consider worker ideas nowadays; increased power and empowerment, combined with unprecedented technology and the wide skillsets required to operate that technology, has made this inevitable. Rather than specializing as some fields have, it seems more and more people need to know a little about everything, especially when it comes to using computers and telephony—even as these fields also converge.
Nowadays, a hand-sized device can do what a computer, telephone, television, stereo, notepad, scanner, library, gossip magazine, and a host of other machines and other items used to do separately. The few visionaries who foresaw that have undoubtedly profited. But let’s face it: even in science fiction—purportedly the literature of the future—most futurists completely missed the computer, telephony, and miniaturization revolutions. And those revolutions didn’t come easy. PDAs paved the way, but now, with smartphones, our minds and society have matured to the point of technological takeoff.
It’s easier to act as a visionary now than ever before—and you don’t have to wait for leadership to maketh you lie down in green pastures. You can point the way and find the pastures yourself. But here’s the real question: why should you bother?
You know as well as I that a lot of managers don’t care for the suggestions box. We’ve all dealt with them, though I hope to someday start hearing from my readers that such leaders have become rare. But for now, understand that many managers either think they know better than you, given their experience and education, or the constant flow of ideas bugs them because they tend to be the same old things, already tried and proven unworkable. Gems exist, but are buried within tons of dross.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying to see into the future, even if only for your own purposes. Here’s a good investment example: the Twitter stock plunge of July and August 2015. Those who kept an eye on Twitter’s leadership and read between the lines dumped their Twitter stock while it was in the high 30s. When the leadership left one important C-Suite position empty for months, then began complaining about how some of the company’s initiatives has disappointed them—even those everyone else considered successes!—the big sell-off began. Some of the leaders’ comments were downright disparaging, something one does NOT want to hear from a company’s leadership.
By the last week of August 2015 (this writing), Twitter stock had dropped to about $25 a share, compounded by a steady drop in the financial markets some pundits have begun to call a “market correction.” Once markets stabilize, Twitter stock may rise again…assuming Twitter leadership doesn’t continue to stick its collective foot in its mouth again. Those who foresaw this self-disappointment brewing in advance because they were paying close attention might have profited financially; and if they worked for other social media providers, might have been able to warn their teams and leadership, bracing for a backlash jolt.
Eyes on the Horizon
Acting as a visionary doesn’t have to be hard, though you can’t always tell what will change business forever. Aside from those who created it, few if any observers foresaw cloud computing. But many of those who saw it coming caught the wave and profited from it, by providing cloud storage and experimenting with new variations and ancillary technology. Some, like community wide EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) networks didn’t really pan out, but other variations did; hence ubiquitous Wi-Fi, often offered free in coffee shops, libraries, and other public facilities. On the other hand, the companies that had invested heavily in colocation and traditional data farming probably took a hit unless they adapted quickly.
Sometimes, all visionary thinking requires is a willingness to stop occasionally and take a long look around in every direction. While experts aren’t always right, it’s worth listening to their claims about the future of your field. You do that by educating yourself. Read the websites and newsfeeds, subscribe to the trade journals and the Wall Street Journal, and peruse business sections of the local city paper. Keeping an eye on Scientific American can’t hurt either. We can now make plastic out of polluted air. How will this discovery change the world? What about nanotechnology? Once scientists figure out to overcome its limitations, IT and knowledge work will change beyond recognition. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Watch the big picture; don’t just focus on a few pixels. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to enrich yourself or your team, even in small, incremental ways. If you lack official sanction, do it on your own time. And even if you think no one will listen, if you sense a paradigm about to shift, let everyone know. With great change comes great opportunity, and sometimes you have to be ready to ride the change waves just to stay afloat.
© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or visit her website.