I'm in the middle of a great book, A Visionary Nation: Four Centuries of American Dreams and What Lies Ahead by Zachary Karabell. I've always believed America is a country built and sustained on the dreams of those who saw the future before anyone else did, and Karabell's book does quite a bit to underscore that concept.
Perhaps unexpectedly, though, his book has also made me wonder whether America still has visionaries. The more I think about it, the more I believe we're running out of the men and women who fuel our country's collective engine. There are some, but the numbers are shrinking.
The obvious question is why. For one, we've given up on the notion that we can enact change. To be a visionary, you have to be an optimist, and in today's world, optimism and delusion seem to be joined at the hip. The world isn't required to be fair, and we've all but stopped trying to make it as fair as possible. We've come to accept inequity as the norm instead of coming up with some way to change the world around us if only on a small scale.
Another reason we're running out of visionaries is because it opens you up to a lot of criticism. Take Bill Gates. He changed the way we use technology and continues to do so with every Microsoft product that comes out. Yet, what do we hear most? Criticism. He's too wealthy or he stole the idea for Windows or he's funny looking. When you put yourself out there for anything, you are bound to attract people who want to tear you down. Make enough "enemies" and even a visionary will either give up or move on.
Yet another reason is that few of us recognize what excellence is. We've made achievement into a negative while championing mediocrity under the notion that "we don't want to hurt anybody's feelings." Watering down excellence to make it palatable for all dilutes everything and everyone.
Fear of disappointment or failure plays a role in this, too. When you make a personal investment in something, it stings quite a bit when it goes unnoticed or unappreciated. Once disappointment sets in, visionary thinking becomes an afterthought.
Put simply, we're in dire need of visionaries in all walks of life. Business, politics, media, society, you name it, there's a need for someone to think outside of the box. Where should you look to find the great leaders for these and other fields?
I'd start by looking in the mirror. We have such amazing potential that we don't use for the reasons I mentioned and many more I didn't. Yet, if you want to make a change in the world, you have to start by changing yourself. Push yourself to the limits of your imagination or ability and then exceed those limits. Build up your resistance to negativity, both from within and from without. Don't accept good enough as good enough; accept only the best as good enough. And most importantly, don't be ashamed of your accomplishments. Take pride in doing what you do well and keep doing it.
Do these things and you will become the visionaries I seek.