What is vision? Have you ever met someone you can truly describe as visionary? I see people call themselves visionaries on their LinkedIn profile and it makes me recoil. I think true visionaries perceive the world and their surroundings in a way that most of the rest of humanity does not, and since that is the way it has always been for them, they probably initially at least don’t even know they are different in that way. They probably do not even think of calling themselves visionaries, and they don’t. It is like being color blind. I did not know I was some degree of color blind until my late teens.
Visionaries have a picture in their mind of how things could be, and try to make them happen. Some of the most successful ones that you hear about may even think they are not the only person thinking that way, so they don’t waste time because they want to be the first ones out the door realizing their vision. Execution, in their mind, is more important than vision. They probably think their greatest asset is their ability to execute. Again, they probably don’t think of themselves as visionaries, and they don’t name themselves that. They are just action oriented.
In 2013, I helped organize a startup conference in Boca Raton with Dean Hovey as the guest speaker, where he told us the story of how a couple of days after Steve Jobs visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center in 1979, Steve asked him to design a mouse that would allow you to request commands by pointing and clicking on the computer screen. It had to be inexpensive and not break down easily, unlike the more complicated and delicate device he had seen during his Xerox tour. I clearly remember Dean saying that Jobs wanted it to work on a hard desk surface and by rolling it over his thigh while wearing jeans. Dean went to the local Walgreens and bought a bunch of roll-on deodorants and a ladle type plastic spoon and other kitchen utensils and containers and started working on prototypes that lead to the groundbreaking Macintosh computer, first with such a device. The mouse, some of you may recall, was mechanical. Computing processing speed at the time was such that today’s laser mouse version would consume most all the processor’s computational resources.
Out of all the things he was shown at PARC, Jobs perceived the point and click device as the most valuable and had the vision to make it massively affordable and available. Based on his unique way of perceiving his surroundings, he placed the ability to enable anyone to send commands through a point and click device at the top of the list, and just went out and executed on it relentlessly. The researchers at Xerox did not have the same vision, their ability to perceive their surroundings was different.
I remember a friend of mine at work in the early 2000’s had a Compaq IPAQ, one of the first PDAs that became widely used. It came with a stylus that you would use to scroll and write, which would get lost sometimes. There were other devices out there with styluses. What was most revolutionary to me when the iPhone came out in 2007 was that your finger had become the stylus. It would be hard to lose your finger, under a normal scenario. Steve Jobs thought up the multitouch display that you could use your fingers on, perhaps because he perceived losing the commonly used stylus as an obviously avoidable nuisance (to him) not evident to the rest of us because of our common complacency blurred vision. In six months after he tasked his engineers to get it done, they had a prototype. He perceived the very high value early on, and just went out and executed relentlessly. Did he call himself or perceive himself as a visionary because of this? I don’t know. Following my hypothesis stated earlier, he might have thought there were others out there with the same vision, so he just executed as fast as he could.
Vision is important, I think. Very long term vision is important. But the dynamism of our surroundings has changed. Vision comes with an expiration date. The long term has become shorter and continues to. At the pace things are moving, do not overrate vision in favor of execution.