Hacker|Engineer

Visionaries

What do Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk all have in common? Besides being insanely wealthy, of course. They are visionaries. Where mere mortals might build a company to produce a product that solves a solution, these people have seen the future. Their vision has been so powerful that they have actually created the future. These visionaries sweep up scores of followers to join their cause, and they inspire exceptional levels of commitment.

Take SpaceX, for example. They have developed the lowest-cost space launch system available today. Wow, what an amazing product, right? But ask Musk how they’re doing. I haven’t met him, but I think he’ll tell you it’s not good enough yet, because it can’t go to Mars. He is thinking so far into the future that the next five years are simply baby steps on the way. His vision for the future of the human race requires colonization of Mars, and having seen that future, he is simply doing with he must to make it reality. From what I’ve learned, the people working at SpaceX buy into that mission. They’re inspired by Musk’s vision, and they’ll go to great lengths to achieve it.

Visionaries don’t struggle to inspire people. They themselves are inspired by a greater purpose, and it’s contagious. Pretenders are the ones who sweat and struggle. They want to be worshipped, so they pretend to create a vision. A real vision, though, comes from somewhere else. I don’t believe visionaries set out to see the future. It hits them and overcomes them so much that they have no other choice but to follow through.

They aren’t necessarily great organizers or facilitators, though. They envision and articulate where to go, but they don’t always do a great job of getting people there. Often a lieutenant is required to organize the day-to-day operations and ensure progress is happening short-term and people feel involved. The lieutenant is deeply imbued with the vision, as well, but he or she must have a detail-oriented, shorter-term focus.

Working closely with a brilliant visionary this weekend, I’ve noticed that they use very different language. Visionaries tend to use words like “must” and “will” and they’re often harsh critics, whereas non-visionaries will use softer language (e.g. “maybe”, “must”, “let’s”, “should”, “sort of”). There’s an aura of purpose that they they convey in their choice of words and tone of voice. When others try to emulate the behavior, the aura doesn’t come across, and it ends up feeling false. Some visionaries are more articulate, but all of them demonstrate a strong sense of purpose.

If you want to feel inspired about what you’re doing every day, find visionaries and follow them.