Look Forward in Times of Rapid Change
In this digital age when the business world is changing at warp speed, people often ask, “How can I have a vision of what’s going to happen five or ten years from now, when I don’t even know what’s going to happen next week?” Venture capitalist Geoff Yang has taken risks on many new technology companies that are expected to move at a rapid pace. What types of innovators is he willing to back? “Men and women with great vision,” he says. “They are able to recognize patterns when others see chaos in the marketplace. That’s how they spot unexploited niche opportunities. And they are passionate about their ideas, which are revolutionary ways to change the way people live their lives or the way businesses operate. When they come to me they have conviction.”24
Look at it this way. Imagine you’re driving along the Pacific Coast Highway heading south from San Francisco on a bright, sunny day. The hills are on your left, the ocean on your right. On some curves, the cliffs plunge several hundred feet to the water. You can see for miles and miles. You’re cruising along at the speed limit, tunes blaring, top down, wind in your hair, and not a care in the world. You come around a bend in the road, and suddenly, without warning, there’s a blanket of fog as thick as you’ve ever seen it. What do you do?
We’ve asked this question many, many times, and here are some of the things people tell us:
“I slow way down.” “I turn my lights on.” “I grip the steering wheel with both hands.” “I tense up.” “I sit up straight or lean forward.” “I turn the music off.”
Then you go around the next curve in the road; the fog lifts, and it’s clear again. What do you do? Relax, speed up, turn the lights off, put the music back on, and enjoy the scenery.
This analogy illustrates the importance of clarity of vision. Are you able to go faster when it’s foggy or when it’s clear? How fast can you drive in the fog without risking your own or other people’s lives? How comfortable are you riding in a car with someone else who drives fast in the fog? The answers are obvious, aren’t they? You’re better able to go fast when your vision is clear. You’re better able to anticipate the switchbacks and bumps in the road when you can see ahead. There are times in your life, no doubt, when you find yourself driving in the fog, metaphorically speaking. When this happens, you get nervous and unsure of what’s ahead. You slow down. But as you continue forward along the path, the way becomes clearer, and eventually you’re able to speed up again. This is exactly the experi- ence that Kyle Harvey described.
As a marketing specialist with a Silicon Valley semiconductor company, Kyle was given a huge project with another marketing team member to create a video and articles about the wide range of products they offered. He set up a meeting with his coworker to determine the direction that they were going to take. “At the begin- ning it was really confusing,” Kyle said.
G E She seemed uninterested in the project, and you could have said
we were in the densest part of the fog. There was no vision for the project, and we really had no direction. After about two weeks, we still had not accomplished anything, so I set up another meeting. This time, before going into the meeting, I developed a vision about how to approach the project. I knew that she was extremely artistic and enjoyed being creative. I found ways to incorporate her talents and what she liked doing into the project. This jump-started her and then we really got engaged. After about ten or fifteen minutes of explaining how she would be able to use her creativity, she began explaining how she wanted the video to look. The fog kept lifting and the view ahead was becoming clearer. . . . After a month of work on the project, it finally seems like we have begun driving faster and left the fog behind. Each of us has been contributing significantly, and she became extremely focused and driven to reach our goal.
The fog analogy is especially strong for me in this case. I found that when our vision was unclear, we pulled off to the side of the road and did not continue to drive. However, after finding ways to motivate and inspire her, we have been back on the road and moving through the fog. It was nice to be able to start from nothing and then build it up to what we have now. It was important for me to realize that the “shared vision” does not always come instantly or in the first meeting. The vision gets clearer the more people communicate and find ways to inspire each other.
Simply put, to become a leader, you must be able to envision the future. The speed of change doesn’t alter this fundamental truth. People want to follow only those who can see beyond today’s prob- lems and visualize a brighter tomorrow.