A great irony about vision is that it’s born, not on the mountaintop, but in the valley; not in the light, but in the darkness. It’s created by adversity. Whereas most people would conform to the limitations of current reality, sinking into it like quicksand, visionaries do just the opposite. They refuse to accept the status quo.
Visionaries look to the future and are not constrained by the present or the past. Visionaries see things differently, not through the lens of currently reality, but through the lens of future possibility. Armed with a meaningful cause to fulfill and a challenging goal to achieve, visionaries drive a stake in the future, throw a rope around that stake, and pull themselves–and anyone else who will join them–up to a new reality.
October 4, 1957 … July 20, 1969
One of history’s most compelling examples of this began on October 4, 1957. That was the day Americans looked into the night sky and realized they had been beat into space. Sputnik 1 was the first man-made object to orbit the earth. In light of the United States’ spectacular failures to do the same, it signaled Soviet domination of space and freedom’s failure to affect the cold war.
Four years later, however, a visionary president declared to Congress that his country would land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade. In spite of that very president’s assassination and some stunning NASA setbacks, the Apollo space program did just that. On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong slipped out of his Apollo 11 lunar module and declared to 450 million people listening worldwide, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The crew returned safely to earth four days later.
Please note all the elements of vision which are at play here. First, the adversity from which vision was born. Second, a leader who would not accept the status quo of current reality. Third, a bold declaration, driving a stake in the future. And, forth the amazing creative and technological advances that came as a result of a nation and a people energized by that vision.
Getting from Here to There
Bill Hybels in his brilliantly insightful style refers to this process as getting from here to there. Here being current reality and there being future possibility. A leader’s job, according to Bill, is to get people from here to there. What he’s found, however, is that painting a rosy picture of future possibly is not the first step on that path. Most people like being where they are. They are quite comfortable with here, thank you very much.
To get from here to there a leader must first convince people, then, of the absolute unacceptability of current reality. We commonly refer to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech as one of the most eloquent examples of a leader casting vision. And it is. But what is not as well-referenced is his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written before that speech was ever given. This letter passionately presents the absolute unacceptability of the injustices that black men and women were facing in this country.
The order of these two pieces of communication is critically important to understanding the casting of vision. Many in the African American community had grown accustomed to the status quo, as bad as it was, and were resistant to the changes being proposed. Dr. King first had to convince them that here was awful before they could embrace the beauty of the vision of there.
You must do the same. Before you paint a picture of the wonderful joys that await you in the future, point by painstaking point document why the present status quo is completely unacceptable. This is where vision is born.