Being Visionary vs. Being Shortsighted: What it Means to Be Human Part 3- Reflections on Leadership

“Sometimes leadership is planting trees under whose shade you’ll never sit.”

– Jennifer Granholm

“I have always prided myself on being a visionary, with a heavy practicality.”

– Gary Vaynerchuck

Americans were busy with Election Day, and many people streamed to voting booths to choose their new candidates for political office. To choose representatives of their own visions, who reflect their own Theory of Mind and agendas. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a visionary as “having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future”. What makes a human being a visionary? Is it about being ahead of your time in thought, in deed, or both?  Is it related to foresight? Hindsight? It it important to hone? Even if you are not in a leadership position at work?

As someone who notices and studies patterns, who’s an avid reader, and a total tech-geek,  I have long been curious about what it means to be a visionary, especially in today’s arena of entrepreneurship. I wrote about it in my upcoming book. I reflected on it when I wrote an article for The Huffington Post on 9/11/13 entitled Visionary Product or Visionary Leadership: Can’t a Female Entrepreneur Have Both? You can read it here. I’ve continued to dwell on it, which has led me to curate content on leadership, using my favorite go-to learning App, Zite, and my awesome Evernote and Pocket Apps to store my digital forays and sync those findings between all my electronic devices.

As I write a series of posts here on what it means to be human, I am reminded of my childhood realization in sixth grade, that writers are visionaries! I recall the first author I read who was both a visionary in his own right, and raises questions about what it means to be human, to be a visionary. I am referring to Isaac Asimov. I devoured his books as a young teenager. The movie, I, Robot, based on one of his bestsellers, remains one of my favorite films to date.

I am not alone in my fondness for Asimov. I  read a wonderful blogpost by the extremely creative, prolific writer Maria Popova in her Brain Pickings blog from April 2013. It’s entitled Isaac Asimov on Curiosity, Taking Risk, and the Value of Space Exploration in Muppet Magazine. You can read it here. In it, she quotes Asimov on a variety of topics, including those reserved for proverbial visionaries; space exploration, education, and change. Asimov weighs in on all those issues, including the increasing popularity of science fiction. The blogpost provides many pithy quotes of his, especially this one. “I don’t think we can really advance into space until we learn how to cooperate as a planet. The very instruments we develop to explore the planets mean that we have better technology for use here on earth.” What timely words- uttered in 1983!

Yvonne Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, also uttered timely and similar words about the need for collaboration amongst people to save the planet. They are in his recent essay The Responsible Economy, which you can read here. Like Asimov, he is a visionary, way ahead of his time, and concerned about people retaining their humanity in an increasingly narcissistic and shortsighted culture. I believe that more politicians should work hard to retain their own humanity, and concern themselves with helping others do the same. It’s why I just wrote an article for The Huffington Post entitled Putting the i Back in iOS: An Election Day Wish List for Politicians From Female Startup Entrepreneurs, which you can read here.

I think that being a visionary means seeing the Big Picture, harnessing time to make it work for him/her, being adaptive, and planning for the future, by doing work that matters, and impacts positively on others. Being human, in its most elevated form, IS being a visionary! It’s embedded in our DNA, and incumbent on us to strive to be visionaries in our daily lives; our personal lives, and our professional lives. Especially for startup entrepreneurs who have the added privilege and responsibility to be visionaries and community leaders!

Patrick Hull, a serial entrepreneur, seems to think along these lines too. I discovered him when I read his eloquent, deceptively simple article in Forbes on 10/4/13. You can read it here. Curious, I googled him and found information about him on his website, describing him as…. a visionary! As an entrepreneur who “revolutionized the transportation and logistics industry with the creation of a freight matching service for long-haul truckers. His innovative approach and integration of technology transformed the trucking sector. Hull has a passion for marketing innovations and has a history of identifying and implementing new approaches that improve existing business processes and generate significant value.”

What is really being described here is a byproduct of being visionary: providing disruptive innovation. A term coined by businessman Clayton Christensen, to explain “a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.” Disruptive innovation has become synonymous with visionary technological products that entrepreneurs attempt to sell to consumers. Like the iPod. Like the iPad.

But disruptive innovation can also be seen in human behavior itself, not just what is created and produced from it. It can be seen in the push-pull between inertia and action, and immobility and adaptability. These are factors affecting one’s ability to engage in cognitive timing, and shape his/her perceptions and endeavors, resulting in achieving visionary status.

The person whom I feel truly exemplifies this idea, about cognitive timing inducing visionary behavior,  based upon adaptive behaviors,  is Joss Whedon, in both his varied works and real life actions. Joss Whedon is my digital storytelling bard-guru, one of my favorite modern day writers of pop culture. I’ve been wanting to share what I wrote about him in my upcoming book, for a long time. I’ve alluded to it in my blogposts on WordPress, and even uploaded a photo and great quote attributed to him here on WordPress. You can check the archived posts and see what I mean. It’s taken me a while to get to him, but as he belongs in this post, and the following one, here goes…..


The driving force behind economic expansion and disruptive innovation is timing. Cognitive i.e. behavioral/deliberate timing. Think of this in terms of character development, the unfolding good vs. evil struggle, and subsequent behaviors of said characters, over a season of meticulously planned story arcs, portrayed on a weekly TV show. Think about the current practice of premiering a movie in select theaters first, to generate buzz, and then inviting critics to view the film, to write about it and thus prepare the masses for later viewing. Timing involves not only committing oneself to seeing a project through, but to using one’s Theory of Mind to continuously, and methodically adapt to one’s milieu. To alter one’s own actions, due to environmental changes that may be organic or behavioral in nature, resulting from changes in the topography and behavior of those in that ecosystem. 

Joss Whedon, the brilliant mind behind some of the greatest portrayals of female empowerment on television,  the expert on slowly unveiling multidimensionalities  and adaptive capabilities of good vs. evil, is a true master of cinematic timing. Whedon has created some of the most innovative, compelling characters, as well as story lines, in Hollywood. I have watched and studied them all. Repeatedly. I say that out loud. I say that with pride. I do get some weird looks. But I have found my own inner landscape psychologically and intellectually enriched by viewing Joss Whedon’s creations; both as a human being and an entrepreneur. 

As seen in his critically acclaimed TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, and his recent movie The Avengers, Joss knows that true villains are more complex than they appear on the surface. He knows that our perspective about them changes with context, and their ability to adapt, which then causes us to then adapt our thinking about them/their actions, accordingly. His richly drawn characters, impeccable timing, and morally ambiguous cautionary tales, repeatedly interwoven into story lines, have spawned an entire movement of academic, religious, and feminist debates about each episode, entire seasons, or connecting story arcs. In fact, there is a huge online community forum where real people have come forward, from various locations and educational backgrounds, both men and women, explaining how they came to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. People from various walks of life and viewpoints.

The Whedon-verse is a unique domain where the human observers, especially entrepreneurs, can practice Theory of Mind (perspective, empathy), “outside the box” thinking, and cognitive based timing. There, we find ourselves appreciating the journey, not just the end result, while engaging in shameless voyeurism of the soul, inexplicably rooting for the bad guys. This is a hallmark reaction to this bard’s impeccable timing and execution of events in the Buffy-verse or Angel-verse. 

The villains of Whedon’s unique universes are all cleverly portrayed with hidden depths, nuanced revelations, and surprising behaviors at unexpected intervals. These portrayals are done with such intelligence and underlying compassion. I am referring to Angel and Spike, who shrewdly demonstrate their deep struggle with their journey, their process of achieving purpose. They constantly struggle with their duality, and sometimes thwarted attempts to subsequently adapt. You see this as well, in the ambiguous heroes of The Avengers, namely The Black Widow and the The Hulk. They are also struggling with their duality and need to adapt.

In a stellar display, Joss Whedon himself, as well as his myriad well drawn characters, have personified the concept of “disruptive innovation”, i.e. adaptive “reboots”‘, through motives, actions, and subsequent reactions, to the events surrounding their Story. When interviewed in April 2012 by the New York Times, about his perspective on the industry behind blockbuster Hollywood movies, (right before The Avengers hit the big screen), Joss joked about his mixed feelings and own actions, saying “That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, it just gives me layers.”

Like the shifting of teutonic plates in the earth below, a person’s “layers” i.e. Theory of Mind, can affect his/her timing and ability to adapt, to alter outcomes and trajectories, overtly or not. An entrepreneur needs to keep this in mind, when thinking about timing, strategy,  and the end-game, and how to play the ultimate chess game on an ever changing board. 

Interestingly, the term “disruptive innovation” was first used in Clayton Christenson’s 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma. The same year Whedon’s TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired. It lasted for seven seasons. Angel, the spin off series created in 1999, ran for five seasons.

Patterns. Another seemingly random pattern to ponder.

Joss Whedon is a true visionary. I want to write about him again next week,  his TV show Agents of SHIELD, and lessons on being human, in next week’s post. I was a road warrior last month, on the lecture circuit, and haven’t gotten around yet to watching it from my DVR que.  Steve Jobs was also an authentic visionary, who understood the responsibility, legacy, and mission Apple™ Inc. had, to move humankind forward, to orchestrate “a better user experience”, to more seamlessly balance and integrate technology with humanity. It’s a shame that the current management in the company he built seems to lack this foresight.

Dan Lyons, one of my favorite tech journalists and Hubspot bloggers, just wrote about this in his 11/4/13 kickoff post for his new series, Up and to the Right. Lyons writes about Apple and Microsoft uniting to go after Google in court, and progress and customers be dammed. Riveting stuff,  his latest blogpost is! <Yoda Voice>. It’s entitled Apple, Microsoft Join Forces to Impede Progress, Hurt Consumers. Well Done! and you can read it here. I was so bothered by this post when I first saw it on Twitter and then again on LinkedIn (you see, it DOES pay to post links to your blog more than once, and more than on one social media platform!) that I HAD to comment. Here’s what I wrote:

Dan Lyons= tech thought leadership! Thanks to you/Hubspot for starting a specialized series! In medieval times,”Right is Might” kept feudalism, actual clan feuds, and archaic thinking alive. Now, while the Digital Age’s in full swing, and capitalism and collaborative/social entrepreneurship have gained footholds all over the world, it’s interesting and disturbing to see that way of thinking permeating the ongoing Apple vs.Google war. Making for negative, global impacts for the consumer, the marketer, the ed-tech professional/ consultant, and students in schools trying to learn and progress. We’ve just gone backwards, not forwards, in the Tech Revolution! 

Shortsighted people cannot become visionaries. That means that they also cannot become self actualized, fully realized human beings, and productive, meaningful entrepreneurs. Has Apple lost its entrepreneurial spirit? Time will tell. In the meantime, let me share my final offering of food for thought, courtesy of Dana Theus. She is a female entrepreneur who is “President & CEO of InPowerConsulting Inc. Dana is a research-based advocate for talent innovation and women’s leadership change initiatives that produce business results.”

Dana is a real visionary, whose 10/31/13 article resonated with me and my NICE philosophy. It’s entitled,  Is Thought Leadership the Same as Change Leadership? and you can read it here. I would like to read more from female visionaries and entrepreneurs, trying to make the world and those in it, better versions of themselves. I would like to further explore what it means to be human, and be a visionary, in today’s visually overstimulated and overstimulating world.

Let me leave you with this link, to a cool YouTube video presently on my radar, about the human capacity to alter visual perception and subsequent reactions to, and memories of, events in time. About the human capacity to be imbued with, and imbue others with, awe.

I wish you the life-altering experience of visionary leadership through mentorship and reverse mentorship,  and the capacity for awe through embracing your humanity.






About penina4niceinitiative

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, is the author of "The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur". She is an Autism specialist and educational technology consultant turned social entrepreneur. She is also a pediatric speech therapist and the creator of the Socially Speaking™ Program & iPad App. Her second book, "Autism Intervention in the iEra" was published in 2015. Since 2010, Penina has been a national/international speaker about social communication development, balancing humanity and technology, and best practices re: mobile and social technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more. You can also find her on Twitter: @PopGoesPenina, Facebook: Socially Speaking LLC, Google+ at The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, and Pinterest and YouTube as well.
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