The word ‘visionary’ typically isn’t one that’s used lightly. It carries a lofty, almost daunting feel to it. Perhaps because there’s an element of the unknown; as in someone who is truly visionary can see into the future in their own special way. It’s this kind of big thinking that sets the stage for bigger things to come, having somewhat of a snowball effect.

But how do they do it? An article by Greg Satell on Forbes says visionaries are able to see into the future because they care about it. Their motivation isn’t about themselves, or about the here and now, but to understand more and to ask questions and to not stop until they’ve figured it out. You might say they suffer from an overactive imagination, one that comes up with preposterous ideas and impractical solutions, in the best way possible.

For people who happen to carry the label of genius or visionary, it may be the case that they have a head-start, literally. They’re wired to think in a different way. For example, Richard Feynman, who invented the field of nanotechnology, provided an insight into the way his mind works during a talk he gave about physics and engineering: “After thinking about the problem of shrinking things down to the size of molecules, he proposes some solutions, then thinks some more about what issues those ideas would create, proposes some more fixes and on and on until a full picture emerged.” Keeping up?

Big thinking is key, but another common denominator is action. Visionaries don’t just have an idea; they get stuck into making it happen. For example, Tim Berners-Lee, the man responsible for the World Wide Web, continues to take an active role in the growth and development of the internet through the W3C consortium, which he helped set up.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, visionaries don’t tend to follow the pack – they zig while others zag. And they carry on zigging, even when others don’t accept their views or even turn on them. They remain curious, because in their heart, they’re born discoverers. Perhaps that’s the starting point when you look at some of the great discoverers and inventors of our world today with an eye to identifying who might be considered visionaries in future. Here’s an interesting list, Utne Reader’s 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.

There’s a lot more to be discovered, there’s no doubt about that. But while some might be able to foresee the future, what we obviously can’t do is actually see it. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the snowball rolls.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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