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What it Takes to be Visionary

What it Takes to be Visionary

It is said, in many forms and forums, that the person least prepared for the future is the one who is certain about what the future will be. Why is this a universally accepted truth? I believe it is because no one ‘knows’ what the future will be. There are certainly ways of looking to what the future may be like and some of these things are quite predictable--like demographic projections. A visionary knows that the future can be what one makes of it and that the very act of thinking about the future, changes the future. So, being a visionary is about imagining but, also making or engineering things that come to reality in a future time frame.

Having a business or enterprise vision without action can be a meaningless exercise. It is dreaming. Dreams are good and helpful, but if they only remain as dreams they are without importance. A dream translated into action is the crux of being a business visionary. Hans von Seekt said, “The essential thing is action”. And action has a critical first stage: “a decision born from thought.” Thought. Decision. What does this require?

In today’s organizational world we are most often involved in one or more of the following activities. We would agree that to do these things well requires thoughtful behavior, focused attention, and activity. So thought is a part of this. We negotiate, we communicate, we develop and manage budgets with a discipline required for success, we organize activities and structures and processes, we apply technology-indeed some have postulated that information technology does not support a business—they say it IS the business because we are so dependent upon it, we deal with culture and its powerful role in enabling or preventing actions. All of these things are done within the context of an overriding ideology which, in turn, guides how we go about doing them. These are actions best done by thoughtful and judicious decision making. But is it visionary?

Visionary thinking demands and requires imagination. Imagination that deals with the ‘becoming’, the ‘what will be’ question, the ‘what should be question’. It is the ‘what if?’ of doing. Visioning requires judgment, a form of thinking and thought which fully engages both sides of our brain at the same time in analysis as well as creativity. Judgement also requires a thorough, if not complete, knowledge of the organization: its history, scope, capability and values. While this thought and understanding is informed by the past and the present, it is not bound by them. Visioning requires wisdom. Wisdom traditionally incorporates judgment and knowledge and we have already counted these as components of a visionary thinker. Wisdom also incorporates deep knowledge of people and what is true and right in a life of good character and conduct. In this sense wisdom is a key component of applied vision. Visionary thinking includes commitment to the ‘decision born of thought’ as von Seekt so aptly says. The strength to act on a vision is what separates visions from dreams. It incorporates a sense of the realistic without being tied to the constraints of noise of the crowd.

Are visionaries misfits? Perhaps. But I choose to believe they are realistic idealists who are motivated by the possible. They use techniques to validate their thinking so that others can ‘see’ along with them. They are humble because they are often alone. They are not seers who see the future. They do not make predictions. They are, however, doers who dream and dreamers who do. In short, a visionary is an Imangineer.