Being a visionary isn’t always easy. In a world set with standards and norms, where you need to follow guidelines, laws, protocols and procedures, it is sometimes hard to remember that you get to create your own path. Following the standard is what most people and organizations do. For instance the government sets a standard through a law, and companies have a certain amount of time to comply. They even have internal compliance departments to make sure that everything matches the standard. Don’t get me wrong, this is critical to developing stability in an organization and society. But that’s not where visionaries like to play.
Visionaries, by definition, see the world with a couple strides of foresight. They can be years, decades, sometimes centuries in advance on “their time”. By the time the government and organizations finally find out that it might be important to care about that particular issue, the visionaries are already way further down the road. That gives them the impression that everyone else is late: “Finally, they start to care about the environment.” “Oh, wow, they are digitalizing their systems. Funny they were not listening to my proposition five years ago.” Sounds familiar? You might be a visionary.
The other day, I had a conversation with a friend who is an amazing visionary coach and spiritual teacher based in New York City. She said:
“The funny thing with this coronavirus is that for the first time of my life, I have the feeling that people are catching up on my thinking.”
In high school I was talking with one of my best friends about business ideas. We were discussing how great it would be to have a chain of instant pasta booths. In a large city like Paris, you could order them before boarding the Metro, and pick up your warm pasta when you get off. A couple months later, the first pasta bar opened in our hometown, Grenoble. It wasn’t long before a few others opened.
On another instance, in Paris, I loved the amazing sushi bars with conveyor belts. I also noticed that we had sushi restaurants in Grenoble, but no real sushi bar with the conveyor belt changing the dining experience completely. I thought it could be an innovative and profitable business. A few years later, the first sushi bar opened in Grenoble.
The truth is, it’s not about me. It’s about one of the gifts visionaries have: they can foresee the future. Then, things simply follow a process described for innovation as the innovation curve (Orr, 2003, Rogers 1995):
If you are a visionary, you are likely to be closer to the early adopters.
During childhood, I was also part of the first ones to adopt new games. One of my American classmates had shown me his Warhammer action figures. It wasn’t long before I wanted my own, and convinced my friends to have their own armies so we could play together. Same with Lord of the Rings action figures, Magic cards, and others. That is also the gift of being an influencer: you set the standard instead of following it. And by influencer, I don’t mean anything about social media and sponsoring. I simply mean that your mere presence, speech, actions and thoughts have effects on the people and environment around you.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not only an individual process. Instead, the idea progressively comes to the collective psyche at the same time as it permeates the individual’s. I would say that visionaries are in tune earlier than followers with the new “updates” of the collective psyche.
There is no need for the whole society to be “contaminated” by a new idea for change to be visible. It only takes a small group of individuals to make the scales tip over. In the Disney movie Mulan, the wise emperor says:
“A single grain of rice can make make the scale tip. A single man can make the difference between victory and defeat.”
This has been reported as the 100th monkey effect (Keyes, 1983), after the observation of behavioural changes (washing of sweet potatoes) in Macaca fuscata monkeys on the Kōjima island in Japan. The fun part is that other monkeys from a totally different group have been observed later on with the same behavioural changes, on other islands in Japan. This observation would lead us to understand that they share a collective unconscious that does not need direct communication for innovation and behavioural change. Rupert Sheldrake calls this morphic fields (Sheldrake, 2006).
Once the idea has reached that tipping point, it reaches the critical mass after which momentum is built and it can enter the mainstream. It becomes more commonly accepted.
The implication of the 100th monkey effect is that a same idea, invention or innovation can appear simultaneously in several minds across the globe. This could explain how some inventions appeared at the same period of time in different countries, and no country necessarily had “to be the first”, as our egos would like to think. (It also explains that the pasta bar idea appeared in my mind, at the same time it did in the mind of those who took action and actually did something about it.) No matter how visionary you are, there is always a more visionary than you and that’s fine.
That is how humanity has evolved: a few visionaries disseminate knowledge which steeps through the social structure and gives rise to new possibilities, and as we westerners like to think about it, to progress. In indigenous cultures, visionaries can also go through a lot of trouble. For instance, shamans often have a challenging childhood because of their visions and difference. As bridges between worlds, they face trials and difficulties, until they are recognized by the shaman of the tribe and taken for apprenticeship. That is when they can hone their talents and navigate life to give back to the community. You can read the biography of the South African Sangoma Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa as an example. The western mental health system has a lot to learn from indigenous cultures, but that could be the topic for another post.
Similarly, some of the challenges faced by visionaries is that they can feel alone, misunderstood, that others are “late”, don’t get it, are not listening. How many times have you seen a loved one make decisions that were not healthy for them? You could see it coming, but they wouldn’t listen. That is part of being a visionary. Sometimes, you also felt you were the oddball, or the weird one.
As a kid, I used to collect skulls and bones. I was so passionate about it, that at age 11, I made a presentation about bones and got a grade of 20/20 (A+). I don’t remember preparing for that presentation. What kind of a weirdo do you have to be to stand up in front of the class talking about bones, when most of the kids talk about Harry Potter, twin celebrities and other novels? (There was another kid who spoke about geological eras, I still remember him talking about the “Mesozoic” period. Thank God weirdos are not alone).
One of the traps here is to think that as visionaries we are somehow “special”. My friend and amazing Mastercoach Claire Molinard explained to me that special is an illusion of the ego. It is different from being Unique. Each of us is a Unique manifestation of the Divine (or of the Universe if you prefer), expressed in a singular way that cannot be replicated. It is a unique combination of talents, skills, experiences, stories, aspirations, dreams and desires. Whether you are a visionary or not, following the standard or setting it, you are Unique. As a visionary, you get to express your uniqueness in your own way, and uniqueness is a value that is probably critical to you.
As a visionary, here are some of the things that can help to set the standards:
1) Start with yourself, always.
People will follow you, if you are ahead of the innovation curve. Don’t wait for others, don’t pretend like you are a follower. Lead from the heart. (Read my article on Conscious Leadership).
2) Trust yourself.
It doesn’t mean it is easy. It doesn’t mean you are alone. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask for feedback. But you got to trust yourself.
3) Surround yourself wisely.
Other visionaries and a community who understand you. And hang out with followers as well, even visionaries need grounding, simplicity and not to be “on top of things” all the time. Stability feels good at times.
4) Learn to embrace that you will always be ahead of the curve, and that’s ok
Give people time to catch up, and give yourself time too. Sometimes, your projects will take three times the time you had initially planned, since they are already done (and sometimes already obsolete!) in your mind. Getting things done in the physical world takes time. Learn to sit back and relax. Slow down to speed up.
5) Set the bar high to show yourself (and others) what excellence is
As a visionary you unconsciously strive for perfection. You have a precise idea what the ideal looks like, and when you don’t “get there”, you judge yourself and others easily. It’s a great thing to have that moral compass. That makes you a role model for others.
6) Set the bar low to make it accessible to followers
Remember that not everybody is at your pace, so set the bar lower for people to take one tiny step towards what they want too. (I know this seems like a paradox with the previous point. As a visionary, you got to get used to living in paradox).
7) Make it fun and enjoyable
This one is a challenging one for me, so I am writing this as a reminder.
Keyes, Ken. The hundredth monkey. Vol. 790. Coos Bay, OR.: Vision Books, 1983.
Orr, G. (2003). Diffusion of innovations, by Everett Rogers (1995). Retrieved January, 21, 2005.
Sheldrake, Rupert. “Morphic fields.” World Futures 62.1-2 (2006): 31-41.