My last post about whether genius required the internet for “closed” to beat “open” ended by suggesting that it was actually the passing of time – which none of us can avoid. Someone responded with the suggestion that there are some who can, in fact, avoid the passing of time:
“Visionaries, and visionaries alone…
Knowledge after the event is commonplace and ordinary. Knowledge before the event is Mastery.”
Of course, it depends on your definition of “visionary”. I would agree that the people we often consider to be visionaries are usually masters of a domain. Wayne Gretzky is possibly the most widely recognised “visionary” in this regard. Wayne’s fathers advice have become a guiding principle for startups and even quoted by Steve Jobs: “Skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been”. In fact we see this a lot with sportsmen who can appear to have superhuman psychic abilities.
The mechanism isn’t as magical as it seems. In reality, because of their mastery they are more familiar with the patterns that are likely to emerge and can therefore anticipate and respond in a way that seems “before” the event. To opponents, Wayne Gretzky seemed to have eyes in the back of his head.
The more complex the system our ability to link Cause and Effect is disrupted and frustrated. But patterns do exist, and mastery of the domain improves our ability to “anticipate” which pattern might emerge. This is now thought to be teachable (given the desire and patience). I would suggest that the desire and patience comes from passion. The more passionate you are about something, the more likely you are to persevere and suffer for it. Without passion, what is left?
More than that though, we often think of visionaries as people who stubbornly pursue their vision, steamrolling everyone who dares disagree or attempt to redirect them. This is also flawed, probably based more on isolated incidents and anecdotes we hear about some of these visionary leaders.
“As you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. You also find tremendous trade-offs that you have to make. There are certain things you cannot make electrons do, or plastic or glass or even factories or robots. Designing a products is keeping 5,000 things in your brain – fitting them altogether in new and different ways to get what you want. Every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together.
Steve Jobs, “The Lost Interviews”
Doesn’t sound like stubborn pursuit of a premeditated result, does it? It sounds more like tinkering and tweaking. In my view, what we call “visionary” appears to be more like passion and drive to discover something really great – not just average or good enough. The discovery process requires time. Doing it well requires passion.