There’s a fine line between being visionary and delusional.
Unfortunately I see far too many authors, speakers and thought leaders broad jumping that line. Vision is a great thing to have. The ability to paint a credible picture of the future, and how it will play out if certain things happen, is intoxicating. Smart people crave and seek it. When in the presence of a true visionary you feel inspired, motivated and drawn to them. Again, all good things.
Delusional thinking however is dangerous.
It’s dangerous to the thought leader that espouses it and for those that they are communicating with. It’s dangerous because it gives people a false sense of hope and creates a set of expectations that when not met cause loss. Financial loss, emotional loss, loss of market share, loss of reputation, jobs and so on.
It’s noble to want to, and believe that your work can, change the world. It’s dangerous to falsely claim it will do so without having any evidence to support your claims. Three “stories” are just a collection of anecdotes and should not be confused with data. It may give you an insight to research or pursue something further but you cannot extrapolate from some positive nuggets you occasionally trip over.
I’ve seen smart thought leaders make claims to their clients, their followers and their investors that were astonishing. Claims that they can enter a new business and in a year generate tens of millions of dollars. Claims that (in spite of hard evidence to the contrary) trends don’t exist. That people without any experience, interest or skills in marketing and sales will suddenly sell and market at the level of an elite marketer or sales person. That their clients will magically find budget when the reality is they won’t. It’s not that these folks are evil or set out to deceive anyone intentionally; it’s that they’ve become delusional. Delusional thinking exists when you have not tested your ideas across a set of potential buyers, when you don’t have the proper level of awareness with regards to important trends that matter, when you are under great pressure to produce results, when you surround yourself with too many like minded thinkers.
Visionary thinking happens when you have the right balance of brilliance, insight, stubbornness, market intelligence, exposure to diverse thinking and follow trends that impact your space and other disciplines. It happens when you can separate your ego from the vision (much harder to do than it seems), you are willing to be flexible and resilient, and you realize your vision may not come to fruition in the way that you had hoped it would.
The world needs visionaries now more then ever. It also needs visionaries who realize when they are being delusional and are wise enough to recognize the difference between two equally intoxicating emotions.