Date: Tuesday , September 01, 2009
Entrepreneurs are said to be visionary leaders. What makes them visionary? How do they develop the capability to see the future ahead of time, and make the future happen? On a personal note, number of budding entrepreneurs has asked me this question of how to get the vision right, so that all the effort and hard work pans out to success. There is no easy or straight answer on developing visionary skills, but in this article I wanted to touch upon some of the critical elements of a visionary entrepreneur and a visionary leader.
Vision as a fringe benefit of failure
Most visionaries have the courage and luxury of making mistakes, failing fearlessly and then learning from them to better see the future. When you keep trying out enough paths, which lead to dark allies of failure, you begin to get a clear vision of the future. Of course, it is critically important that through these failures and repeated attempts, you do not get disheartened with your goal to innovate in the future or change the world! Successful visionaries try enough number of times, and finally they get the vision of the future – the path that will take them or their company to the promise land of success. Rarely, have I seen entrepreneurs who had the crystal clear vision of their market or product from day one. What they instead had was a tireless ability to keep "tinkering" with their idea, concept or business model, until they finally had the right "vision" and path to success. It is for this reason, that entrepreneurial regions like the Silicon Valley produce far greater number of visionary entrepreneurs. The cost of failure is low, and people can take chances to invent the future according to what they desire.
Vision as a Black Swan Event
Sometimes vision emerges from the rare and the unexpected events that happen around us, events which create a profound impact in our society. Rise of the Internet in early 90's, or the event of September 11th, have been labeled as "Black Swan" events in the famous book "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable" by Naseeb Nicholas Taleb. I would highly recommend aspiring entrepreneurs to read this book, to get a view on how to deal with unknown and improbable events, which can lead to high impact. Such black swan events provide a vision of the world to come. The September 11th event, personally gave me the notion that "Risk" in the world has fundamentally changed. What was considered safe really was not as safe after all. It was a black swan event, and from that event, as I have experimented for the last 6 years, the vision of Metricstream, which is now a market leading company in the world of governance, risk and compliance. Notion of risk had fundamentally changed post September 11th, how could we help businesses and corporations to better address corporate risk through governance and compliance? This led to the creation of Metricstream vision. I saw the same opportunity back in early 90’s when Internet and the browser was invented, my first company WhoWhere? was created because there was a strong belief that the world is fundamentally different in the post browser era. The browser had changed everything, and I was willing to risk failure at that time. I had identified a black swan event, and was patient enough to "tinker" and fail, till I had got it right!
Vision as a Smart follower
In many cases, it is perfectly ok to borrow the vision from some one else. You do not need to be the trail blazer to be the visionary. You could simply be a smart entrepreneur who learns from other visionaries and out executes them through sheer perseverance and smart execution. Google is a great example of such a company. Google founders were not the original inventors of the search engines, Yahoo!, Infoseek, Excite, Alta Vista had all paved the path for a world where search engines would fundamentally change the way consumers would access information and content. Google founders saw the vision, and went deep to solve this problem better than their predecessors. They out executed the first generation search engines, and today they own over 70 percent of the market share. Number of such examples exists. As a smart follower, you have to ensure that the vision you have is something where you can indeed create a significant advantage over your more established rivals in the marketplace. Coming from behind is not easy; hence you need some unique technology or business advantages to help you become the market leader over time. So, entrepreneurs must study other visionaries, understand what visions of the future are there in the industry and how can they shape their own vision in a niche area where they can out execute the rivals.
In summary, I believe that to establish yourself as a visionary entrepreneur and craft the right vision for your company, you need to be fearless in experimenting and persevering, you need to be an ardent student of black swan events happening around us, and finally you need to have the ability to learn from other visionaries. As you follow these steps, most often in few years, one starts to develop a sense of how things will shape in the future. Over time, with the benefit of hindsight and success, people might actually call you visionary!
The author is the Chairman of SiliconIndia.com and MetricStream. An internet pioneer, he was the co-founder and President of WhoWhere? Inc., a Internet directory services company acquired by Lycos in 1998 as well as eGain, an online customer service company. Sinha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org