The Vision Thing

The Vision Thing
"Companies must have a noble cause, and it's the leaders job to transform that noble cause into such an inspiring vision, that it will attract the most talented people in the world to want to join it." - Steve Jobs

Rob Campbell experienced Jobs’ inspiration first hand. Carmine Gallo recounted his story in “Steve Jobs and the Power of Vision.” When Gallo interviewed Campbell for the article in the early 2000’s he was the CEO of Voalte, but in the 1970’s he was a young programmer who was excited about the emergence of personal computers.  He decided to begin looking for work with companies that were driving the PC revolution. 

First he visited Tandy Computers where he asked executives “What is your vision for the personal computer?” Their response: “We think it could be the next big thing on everyone’s wish list for the holiday season!”  

Uninspired he decided to visit Commodore, a company that introduced a personal computer in 1977, but was now trading at less than one dollar a share.  He asked Commodore executives the same question: “What is your vision for the personal computer?”  With great enthusiasm they responded, “We think it could help our stock rise above two dollars a share!”

Still uninspired Campbell accepted an invitation from Steve Jobs to meet for lunch. During the meeting he asked Jobs: “What is your vision for the personal computer?” Jobs’ response gave Campbell goose bumps. He talked at length about how personal computers were going to change the world.  He “painted a picture of how it would change everything about the way we worked, educated our children and entertained ourselves.  You couldn’t help but buy in.  Vision, said Campbell, “was the one thing that separated Jobs from the others.” 

Steve Jobs was a leader. Campbell’s search reveals the difference between leaders and managers. Leaders embrace the tension that lies between The Actual and The Possible. They manage The Actual, but they are motivated by The Possible. To lead you must articulate a vision that inspires your people to imagine what their organization can become. You must make it clear to your people know where you want the organization to go without establishing exactly what it’s going to look like when they get there. This will inspire and empower your people to stretch beyond their perceived limitations.  But it takes courage. This approach moves you out of your comfort zone in a way that makes you vulnerable.

Most organizations are managed.  Managers either completely avoid articulating a vision or they create one by picking from low hanging fruit. A vision like “this product ‘could be the next big thing on everyone’s wish list for the holiday season!” fits the bill perfectly. “Get a win” is the manager’s mantra. Managers avoid becoming vulnerable at all costs. They want to control the process to achieve safe outcomes that reflect favorably on them. 

Unfortunately leaders are extremely rare now – at a time when leadership is so desperately needed.  A pervasive “get a win” mentality has stymied our ability to solve difficult problems – many of which do not have solutions. We must continually innovate to thrive in what has become a world of ambiguity.  And, to quote Steve Jobs once more,  “Innovation requires a team and you cannot inspire a team of passionate evangelists without a compelling vision; a vision that is bold, simple, and consistently communicated.”

Next time: It’s been 50 years since the moon landing. When are we going to start dreaming again?



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