It’s hard to separate good leadership from clear vision. The two just go together. If you were building a house, your vision would be the blueprint. If you were shooting arrows, vision would be the target. If you were a soldier in a war, vision would be your plan of attack (it’s arguably more important than your weapon). Vision is not a luxury—it’s an essential.
What makes “vision” challenging today, however, is the fast rate of change. Organizations can embrace a vision, but in their determination to remain focused, they can miss the need to modify methods en route. Sometimes, leaders even confuse methods with vision, or worse: leaders fail to see the future at all.
In light of this, I wanted to share some quotes with you from major leaders who miss this point and failed in the category of vision:
“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean the atom would have to be shattered at will.” –Albert Einstein, 1932
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” –Western Union internal memo, 1876
“Reagan doesn’t have that presidential look.” –United Artists executive after rejecting Reagan for the film The Best Man
“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” –Dr. Dionysius Lardner, 1830
“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” –Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883
“Everyone acquainted with it will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.” –Henry Morton, Stevens Inst. of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb, 1880
“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.” –The president of the Michigan Savings Bank, advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” –Ken Olson, president, chairman of Digital Equipment Co. (DEC), 1977
“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” –W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954
“No, it will make war impossible.” –Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun, in response to the question “Will this gun not make war more terrible?”, 1893
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” –Associates of David Sarnoff, mocking his call to invest in the radio in 1921
“There will never be a bigger plane built.” –A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that held ten people
“How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I’ve not the time to listen to such nonsense.” –Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800s
“The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous.” –Comment of Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig, seeing a tank, 1916
“I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.” –HG Wells, British novelist, in 1901
“The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” –IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959
“It’ll be gone by June.” –Variety Magazine on Rock n’ Roll, 1955
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” –New York Times, 1936
So the next time some young leader approaches you with a zany idea that you see no apparent use for… think again. Pray you don’t make this list someday.
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