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18 January 2016

Visionary Thinking: Alternative Futures

David A. Zimmer Print

Visionary Thinking: Alternative Futures

Visionary Thinking Components:

Visionary thinking consists of the following components:
  • Creativity (creative thinking),
  • Futuristic, progressive ideas,
  • Directional path(s) to the future state, and
  • Tangible concepts others can grasp and accomplish.
Check any book discussing leadership and one core competency always mentioned as needed by leaders is vision.  A good leader has a vision. Vision is the ability to see into the future, determine a destination and communicate it to those around. It is a direction; a purpose. Vision provides motivation for what we do and where we spend our time. As the proverb states, “Without a vision, the people (the followers) perish.”

There is nothing worse than a person in charge wandering through the wilderness of business leading his or her people nowhere. The people dutifully follow only to find themselves in the same spot after much effort and struggle. Eventually, the followers wander off to another leader.  Those who stay behind feel down-trodden, defeated, miserable and trapped. Many gripe and complain souring the entire environment.

The leader needs visionary thinking, which is the ability to see alternate futures, determine a course of action, define a path to reach that future and inspire others to aid in the effort.

Marcia Wieder, CEO of Dream University, a personal transformation expert and a former president of the National Association of Women Business Owners stated, "A visionary has a big dream, articulates it with clarity so people get it, and expresses it with passion so others can feel it and get excited with them. Most importantly, a true visionary has mastered the skill to inspire, invite and enroll others."

Defining Visionary Thinking

Let’s define visionary so we can understand visionary thinking.  According to YourDictionary.com:

Visionary

1. (adj.) The definition of visionary is someone or something that thinks about the future or advancements in a creative and imaginative way.
2. (noun) Definition of a visionary is someone with unusual or progressive ideas about the future or advancements.
And finally, a comment to a posting asking what is a visionary:
3. I think a visionary is someone who sees what things could be and motivates others to make changes that make it possible.
Let’s explore the components of visionary thinking.

Creativity

Creativity comes from creative thinking. Although we further define creative thinking in its own article, let’s provide a brief overview here for context:
  • Allows for as many ideas as possible,
  • Permits wild and crazy thoughts, which initially may be too extreme but enlarges the boundaries of the possible,
  • Encourages daydreaming and “playfulness”,
  • Consents to making mistakes and learning from those mistakes, and
  • Provides a more relaxed environment.
Therefore, visionary thinking requires many ideas which push the limits of today’s possibilities using daydreaming and mistakes to define the path forward in a relaxed environment.

Futuristic, Progress Ideas

Visionary thinking describes a state that does not exist. When solving a current problem, visionary thinking comes into play as we envision a state when the problem no longer exists.  Depending on the situation, rather than simply fixing the problem to get us back to the current state, we take the opportunity to resolve the issues so they don’t continue to exist.

For example, let’s say the current situation requires manual review and transcribing data into a report. An obvious fix might be to simply automate the report generation. Using visionary thinking, we should take the opportunity to not only automate but to determine a future state we really want and bypass the current report structure to something which provides more useful information.

By way of a tangible example, one of our clients was tracking issues associated with products in the market. They used a slide deck that was manually created and maintained. Quarterly, several senior managers would meet to update the slide deck in preparation for the executive committee meeting. We developed an automated system using a Microsoft SharePoint List and an export to Microsoft Excel. Using VBA macros, we created a report format containing additional information the original report did not have, plus we added pivotal tables and charts analyzing  information about issue lifecycle, categories, etc.  The additional reports did not take us much time, but provided the client with clear examples of what can be done now the data is stored in this new system. The addition of pivot tables and charts provided progressive examples in a short time frame. It showed what was possible.

Many years ago, we published articles about futuristic concepts for the telecommunication industries. While technology at the time did not permit implementation of those ideas, today we enjoy the use of smartphones, apps and services that employ many of those ideas.  When the articles were published, they were progressive.  If published today, they would be considered old news.

Paths to the Future State

As the saying goes, there is more than one way to solve a problem. Visionary thinkers mentally analyze various paths to the future weighing the risks and advantages of each.  Very akin to strategic thinking in that multiple paths are considered, visionary thinking doesn’t necessarily take the path definitions down to the detailed levels strategic thinking would.


Referring to the telecommunication evolution example above, we defined multiple paths the transformation could happen. We discussed wired networks, wireless and mobile needs, use of various existing standards and the need for new standards, a variety of user modalities, and more.  Each aspect was discussed in lesser detail at times because the technology to support the concept didn’t exist. So defining the various paths users might consume the services, products and devices, we enabled others to develop the technology to produce the results we see today. The visionary thinking pushed the envelope of the possible to the impossible for the time making them a reality today.

Tangible Concepts

We didn’t just throw pie-in-the-sky concepts into the air expecting someone else to make them tangible. We had to come up with specific useful examples whereby those with the ability to make them reality could catch our vision. Here are some examples:
  • Our concept was a single source whereby the user/consumer could carry all their contacts’ information, messaging, calendaring, personal artifacts such as photos, music, videos, etc. either with them or access them in a single location from multiple devices, whatever they had handy. At the time, tablet computing was very much still in the visioning stage, computer screens were still primarily character based, the internet was only in the hands of the military or some universities, the world-wide-web didn’t exist and wasn’t even discussed and cellular phones were the sizes of bricks or had to be mounted in your car. Yet, we drew screenshots of a combined interface similar to what we have in smartphones today.
  • We discussed the ability to have “coupons” fly into this mobile device or interface to your personal information whereby merchants offered discounts for food, movies, entertainment, tickets, etc.  Today, we download apps onto our smartphones which notifies of various specials at local merchants. We can easily locate a fast food restaurant near our current location and check for coupons at the same time.

Effective Visionary Thinking

How do we make our visionary thinking effective? We’ve defined visionary thinking. We’ve broken it into components. But without getting others to accept and adopt our vision, we are simply dreaming. Here are some steps we gleaned from a variety of sources (articles from Inc.com, Forbes.com, Linked-In.com and others):
  1. Build rapport – leadership is all about relationship. Without relationship, others won’t accept the vision.
  2. Describe the Future – vision speaks of the future. Set the vision within an obtainable timeframe but not so close as to not requiring stretching Build Value – value comes from utility. If those hearing the vision can’t grasp the value gained, they will lose the motivation to achieve.
  3. Develop Tangible Concepts – fantasies are made of pie-in-the-sky thoughts. Add weight to the dreams by providing tangible, comprehensible concepts or examples.
  4. Create Excitement – enthusiasm and energy helps others to overcome their natural tendency to reject change. Vision means change.  Excitement urges others past the rejection stage and into the execution stage.
  5. Overcome Obstacles – be honest. Be transparent. Recognize and acknowledge the obstacles. Obstacles don’t disappear by ignoring them but by facing them. Overcome them. Make others aware, setting their expectations properly and engaging them to solve the issues around the obstacles.
  6. Secure Agreement – involve others in the vision and solution. As they buy into the plan and provide support, the vision will begin to take shape.

Conclusion

Visionary thinking is looking into the future and bringing it into the present. As the saying states, “All roads lead somewhere, but without direction, you will end up somewhere and not necessarily where you want to be.” Visionary thinking puts direction into our paths. Visionary thinkers bring others with them into the future through relationship, energy and clarity.


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