Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2011)
Dreamers think about it…visionaries see it and then make it happen, at whatever cost
Note: I recently re-read this book and think its material is even more valuable now than it was when the book was first published a decade ago.
The material in Ten Steps Ahead is based on what Erik Calonius learned during his research (including interviews of various business visionaries) from which he gained a much better understanding of “what separates successful business visionaries from the rest of us.”
The word “successful” is critically important, reminding us of Thomas Edison’s observation, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” No one can deny what Walt Disney, Edwin Land, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Jeff Hawkins accomplished, not only within the business world but also in terms of the global impact they and their respective companies have had. Calonius also focuses on other visionaries such as Orville and Wilbur Wright, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, and more recently, Richard Feynman whose achievements also indicate that the brain is a visionary device whose primary function is to create pictures.
Throughout human history, innovator thinkers can usually be divided into two classes: dreamers and visionaries. Those in either group tend to be “ten steps ahead of others” in terms of what their brains “see” but only the visionaries are driven (by forces that Calonius explains brilliantly) to make what they “see” become a reality.
Readers will appreciate Calonius’ strategic insertion of insightful comments throughout his narrative. For example:
Former Apple CEO John Sculley: “Both of them [i.e. Edwin Land and Steve Jobs] had this ability to – well, not invent products but discover products. Both of them said these products have already existed, it’s just that no one had ever seen them before. We were the ones who discovered them.” (Page 52)
Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer on a term they defined: “Emotional intelligence involves the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.” (Page 64)
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, one that heralds the most discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but, ‘That’s funny.’” Isaac Asimov (Page 73)
Andy Hertzfeld on Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field”: “It’s a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, and indomitable will, and an eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand. If one line of argument failed to persuade, he would deftly switch to another. Sometimes he would throw you off balance by suddenly adopting your position as his own, without acknowledging that he ever thought differently…We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it, but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature.”
Time and again, Calonius cites an example of a visionary business leader who is willing to suffer and struggle, to put everything at risk, when pursuing a dream that Jim Collins and Jerry Porras would probably characterize as a commercial-strength BHAG (i.e. Big Hairy Audacious Goal). There are countless situations in which visionaries see what no one else sees but are oblivious to the serious dangers that are obvious to everyone else.
Few of those who read this book are or ever will be a successful business visionary (“ten steps ahead”) but all who read it can learn valuable lessons from the material that Calonius provides and be 3-5 steps ahead of where they were before. There are lessons about how to overcome what I characterize as “the invisibility of the obvious” in order to recognize – having developed imaging skills – the opportunities and possibilities that would otherwise be missed. Also, how to overcome resistance, rejection, and ridicule with courage and conviction. Like Tennyson’s Ulysses, they are determined “to strive, to seek, to find…and not to yield.” And as Calonius points out, one factor in success is under our control: “the number of at-bats, the number of chances taken, the number of opportunities seized.”
I congratulate Erik Calonius on a brilliant achievement. To those who read it, I presume to suggest that there are still lots of fat juicy dragons out there roaming around. Go get ‘em!