# 293: Bold Visionaries

Brands, H. W. (1999). Masters of Enterprise: Giants of American Business from John Jacob Astor and J. P. Morgan to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, 188.

Story behind the Passage

On most of the days when I write for my blog, I wonder why the heck I called this “Startups Story Learning” at the beginning. After all, I am covering so many different topics and reflections here every day for so many different target groups which have very little to do with entrepreneurship. Mostly, this is because I keep shifting between the different things I do and the different talents I want to bring to the world. In times when I feel lost again, the artistic and spiritual side takes over. Yesterday, however, I had a conversation with someone and it brought me back to knowing and feeling exactly what I need to do and why I am writing this. I could not grasp it straight away but this morning when I woke up, it was very clear.

The person I talked to is someone whom I admire a lot for his kindness, his undogmatic mindset, and his excellent diplomacy skills. Probably, if he reads this, these might be exactly the things that he does not like to hear. Is it not often the case that the things we are strong at are the ones that bother us most because we believe they hold us back? It is the same for me and the thing that he drew attention to without knowing it. It is exactly one of these qualities that I often try to neglect or get rid of: being a bold visionary .

I will spend the rest of this post explaining what exactly I mean by that but the important thing is that I do believe that this is the part about me that I often cannot stand. This is also how we came to mention it yesterday. We were talking about someone else and then he said: “But, definitely, so and so is a visionary.” That was something that kept resonating in my mind because I realized that this connected me to the person we were talking about. At the same time, it was something that many people might dislike about that very person — well, not the visionary part itself but the way in which he implements that vision. And that takes us exactly to the point:

Being a visionary and implementing your vision as an entrepreneur does not work if you want to be liked.

I talk about this gap between ego and self-confidence a lot but it is something that indeed remains a challenge, especially if you have the skills to actually do what you feel you are supposed to do. That also takes us back to the reason why we actually talked yesterday: finding your “mission.” After all, I do believe that there is such a thing but our conversation made me aware of the fact that this might be a truly entrepreneurial thing. Maybe enterepreneurs are those who are restless in any kind of job they do and they keep NOT finding IT until they finally build it themselves. That is the vision they have in the back of their mind — if they know it or not, if they admit it or not.

If you admit it, you probably count as a visionary. But part of the reason why I kept thinking about this “visionary” aspect yesterday is because I do not actually know what visionary means to people who use this term in the way my conversation partner did yesterday. I could have asked about the details, of course, but we had so many other thoughts that also deserved attention that I did not come back to this. Here is what the dicitionary says about the meaning of “visionary”:

“”able to see visions,” 1650s (earlier “perceived in a vision,” 1640s), from vision + -ary. Meaning “impractical” is attested from 1727. The noun is attested from 1702, from the adjective; originally “one who indulges in impractical fantasies.”” (visionary | Search Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com))

This definition is funny because, actually, when Disney founded his company and went on to be the most famous movie producer of the world, “products” were still considered hardware, i.e., cars, trains, and other material goods. Selling movies and stories was not something that sounded very promising. This is why “impractical fantasies” sounds like what people thought of Disney back then and still think today. Just think of Helmut Schmidt who said:

“Anyone who has visions should go to the doctor.”

For me, fantasizing about the future, having visions, is quite normal. But it migt indeed be related to the experience of being an entrepreneur. I think, the past three years have shaped me a lot in this regard. If you start your business from scratch, people will probably say you are a visionary or nuts. I think, it takes both but only if you develop the boldness it takes to actually reach your goals. These are usually the qualities that I sometimes hate about myself: ambition, getting money, being nerve-wracking, being harsh on people, being demanding, focusing on output… I know, as a coach and PR person, you could find more positive synonyms for all these words but I do not want to do this now. What I want to do is talk more about the passage and the visionary aspect.

My Learnings

“Invent your own job; take such an interest in it that you eat, sleep, dream, walk, talk, and live nothing but your work until you succeed.” Guess what, this is what most entrepreneurs do, I think. But there are different degrees of visionary leadership, of course. Not every entrepreneur really invents something new. Consequently, the “job” profile might not have to invented. But what Disney is saying here combines the bold and the visionary in perfect unison for me and links it with Steve Jobs’ “keep looking” mentality. If you do not think what you have right now feels right, go look for something else. And if you are so creative and at the same time business-driven as Disney and many others, you will find that what you are looking for does not exist anywhere yet. Hence, you have to invent it. In other weords: You have to be a visionary, i.e., see things in your imagination.

The visionary component does not suffice, however. You can have that as an artist as well. Actually, Disney wanted to be an artist at first but his sense of making money with art brought him to the creative business. It was funny to read this. I keep complaining about the fact that the artist in me and the business person often struggle with each other. But I think, if you do have the business side inside you, you can never completey go (back) to being an artist only. This also goes along with what Disney is saying about perfection somewhere else in the article. Artists are trained for striving perfection and they probably look for this themselves. In some cases, I do stick to some perfectionist ambition. But if you are a pragmatist and your aim is to achieve something with your creativity, e.g., touch people or sell something else with it, you cannot emphasize perfection anymore. Plus, perfection does not exist anyways…

If you ever learn that, there is no way back.

Of course, Disney became known for his “if you can dream it, you can do it” approach. For people like me who are very “American” in a way, this is motivation. Others simply call it bullshit. I do not care what others call it. Disney realized his dreams and inspired millions of children and grownups to develop and pursue their own. If this was his vision from the first place — I doubt it. I wrote about this before; that I think the vision emerges as you start doing things. Visions without products do not sell well. Still, you are driven by something bigger that others do not see at this point. This might be the thing that others, like my conversational partner yesterday, call “visionary.”

What I deeply admire about Disney, and that actually connects us very much, even though I do not want to start anything in the movie business, is the down-to-earth mentality. I think, this almost stubborn focus on the customer is an indication of him not just being an artist but a business man. As an entrepreneur, you always care about your clients more than about your own artistic ambition. This is not easy sometimes but it is not a pain either. It really depends on what you feel is your thing — your mission, your place, your joy. And making money with your creativity can be big fun too. But for Disney, it was clear who his customers were. Here is how this aspect is described in the book:

“Disney shrugged off critics who derided his work as middlebrow. His films, he said, ‘go straight out for the honest adult, not the sophisticate, not these characters who think they know everything and you can’t thrill them anymore. I go to the people who retain that, no matter how old they are, that little spirit of adventure, that appreciation of the world of fantasy.’ The critics weren’t the customers; the audience was. ‘To hell with the critics,’ Disney said, ‘It’s the audience we’re making the picture for.” (Brands 194)

This is what I always said about my academic work as well. But it was the wrong place to think that way. There, your audience, your clients, are the people in your field who are exactly the “sophisticates” that Disney did not want to reach. I do not want to convince them either. I want to help people whom I admire because of their entrepreneurial actions and performance and I want to help those who can one day turn into such personalities. This is more, at least for me, than making intellectual critics happy.

Does that make me a visionary?

It does not matter what it is called.

I will JUST DO IT.

Reflection Questions

1) How do you define a “visionary”?

2) What is your biggest vision?

3) Which Disney movies do you remember?



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