I am continually amazed at how many entrepreneurs lack vision. Many possess a great idea. Some have discovered a new invention. And many more have found a market that is ripe for disruption.
But very few dream. They are unable to see down the road and paint a picture of what they will become. They struggle to paint the picture of the world as they see it – five, ten, or even twenty years down the road.
Michael was no different.
“I stumbled into Starbucks – my hands full of the cards I collected the night before. My mind was racing and my palms were sweaty. Seeing that the line was long, I found a corner table where I could unload my things. I opened my laptop and started to thumb through the cards. As I did, I flashed back to the night before at the convention. I could still feel my heart beating as I shook the Senator’s hand. I could feel my chin drop to the floor as the Committee Chairman handed me his business card.
“In a short 45 minutes, I had collected at least a dozen cards, each of which had the personal contact information of a senior government official. For a political activist, this was gold.
“As I came out of my trance, I realized that the coffee line had evaporated. I got up quickly, hoping to beat the next wave of folks ready rushing to get their Sunday morning cup of joe.
“When I returned – my chin hit the floor. This time, for a very different reason. My stack of cards was gone.”
When I first met Michael Barnett, he was passionate about his invention. His story made clear why he had made it his personal mission to digitize the way business cards were collected. After sharing the history, he opened his backpack and produced a small, handheld device that was shaped to fit perfectly within the curve of the human hand. A single button sat conveniently where his thumb rested. “If I push this button, my contact information will automatically transfer to your device.”
Michael, like so many entrepreneurs, began his company by solving a problem. Entrepreneurs see a need firsthand, and they invent a device or build a new system to get rid of their own pain. Many are captivated by their discovery and develop a deep sense of purpose in changing the way the world works. They want to ensure that no one else experiences their pain.
Unfortunately, very few translate this mission into a vision.
A purpose drives culture and a product solves a problem, but it is a vision that creates momentum. It is the magnetic force that pulls an organization forward and it is the guiding light from which strategy is developed.
Over the past several years, I have watched as Michael has transformed his company from a device manufacturer into the premier social marketing platform for the events industry – InGo. This evolution has been grounded in the vision he was able to develop as he transitioned from inventor to leader.
He envisioned InGo technology powering the connection of conference attendees throughout the world. He could clearly describe the massive impact this virtual web could create by bringing virtual communities back together into the physical world.
Michael was unconsciously competent. He developed his vision, not as an intentional effort, but as part of an evolutionary process that he naturally followed.
Having spent the past eight years helping entrepreneurial leaders develop innovative products that disrupt industries, I have begun to recognize patterns that exist in those who are able to make the change. They typically go through the following process, much like the one that Michael went through.
They surround themselves with the best and the brightest.
Inventions are often created in a lab. Innovations are made in society. Entrepreneurs that cross the bridge from inventor to leader seek out the best and the brightest minds to collaborate with. They find mentors and teammates with a diverse set of expertise. They surround themselves with talented comrades – oftentimes those that are even more talented than themselves – and they seek to learn as much as they can from them.
They gather information from disparate sources.
As successful entrepreneurs begin to surround themselves with talented individuals, they recognize the value of the insights they are receiving and they begin to seek out more and more. They are naturally curious, ask a lot of questions, begin to read more often, and find more ways to gather intelligence. They collect a myriad of information across a wide variety of related fields and sources and many of them provide context regarding how their invention may be used, adapted, or become mainstream.
They value finding the right answer more than being right.
Entrepreneurs are notoriously stubborn, but, successful entrepreneurs are also dedicated to success. While they remain committed to their mission, they begin to develop a hypothesis around what their company might become. They begin to imagine the future and incubate ideas of how their company might look in the future based upon the data points that they have collected. They begin to see into the future and paint a picture of how they will succeed.
They develop the 3 sights of vision.
As this initial painting is incubated within the entrepreneur’s head, the 3 sights of vision begin to emerge. The first is “foresight.” This is the ability to see how the world is evolving and predict where it’s going to be. The second is “insight” – the ability to identify the unique assets available to the entrepreneur that can be used to participate in and push forward the changes that the entrepreneur believes will occur. And finally, is “cross-sight.” This is a hypothesis about how the company will interact with others within the space and integrate with the ecosystem that either already exists or will ultimately emerge.
They continually paint, refine, and expand the vision.
It is at this point, once the 3 sights emerge, that the entrepreneur has found a robust vision. Successful entrepreneurs begin to share their vision by painting a clear picture to everyone who will listen. In doing so, they gather more and more feedback, refine their hypothesis and expand their vision. This continual cycle builds momentum and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Many in the lean startup world would correctly recognize InGo’s transformation as a series of “pivots.” What these same folks would likely miss is that these pivots would have proven fruitless without a vision. A pivot requires that one foot is firmly grounded while the other moves. Without that foundation, you are simply spinning your wheels.
InGo is a great example. It’s mission has not changed, but, the vision has undoubtedly evolved and the strategy pivoted around it in order to ensure success.
Entrepreneurs must learn how to create a compelling vision. A clear vision is the basis for successfully navigating a market. Surround yourself with exceptional talent, collect information voraciously, value finding the right answer, develop the 3 sights of vision, and continually paint your vision for others, and then rinse and repeat. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.