The word 'visionary' conjures up all sorts of images; not least a futurist with crystal ball-like abilities. But in today's tech landscape the demands on becoming a visionary have changed significantly, with three specific dynamics affecting the requirements of the job. Embracing or ignoring these will be the difference between success and failure.
The Need for Speed (And Relevancy)
To be a visionary today means bigger, bolder and more ideas brought to fruition in less time. The rate of change in technology means a good, unique and novel idea doesn't stay that way for long. The element of surprise is not the same as before, so fast execution has become a big differentiator. Every business needs to be prepared to not just adapt fast but also transform itself to stay relevant. Consider the cases of Nokia, Blackberry and Yahoo!, all major players in the tech scene once upon a time. What happened? The world moved on but they didn't.
Being a tech visionary means having great ideas and even greater (and faster) execution. A visionary finds the balance between planning for tomorrow or the day after yet acting today. It's no job for the faint-hearted; it needs confidence, decisiveness and a willingness to fail.
Engineering multiple "controlled failures"- small tests that justify our direction and based on the results quickly course-correct - can make all the difference. It's a fickle world and people are unforgiving about a cool vision that fails to quickly materialise. Consumers are highly critical of vapourware; just look at the Ovation office suite or Phantom games console. Work hard to build the tools and processes that validate your direction and put it into a strong operational model. It takes many attempts to develop the 'next killer app' so don't be afraid explore a number of different paths.
The Whole Picture
Opportunities and threats come from everywhere today. A company you might never have even considered could be going head-to-head with you tomorrow. Your neighbour might be developing the next Uber or iPhone in their garage. Disruption is, unfortunately, not a frontal assault so having the ability to step back and look at the whole picture is vital.
This requires an adaptive vision - one that is flexible enough to adjust based on the circumstances of the surrounding world and the latest tech consumption trends. Fear of change and the misalignment of a vision to existing realities only have one outcome -failure.
In tandem, an adaptive vision needs to be supported by a collaborative culture and organisational agility and a visionary should lead the way. The future belongs to the "Agile Enterprise" that works as one team. In reality this means your company's willingness and ability to de-silo and nurture a culture of collaboration and aligning to one goal, the customer. In this process, making the most of all your skills and not just the tech-related ones can not only spark new ideas, but also work as a key differentiator that will help you rise above the crowd. Remember how Steve Job's passion for art and design shaped Apple products. Similarly, working with partners and third parties as an innovation engine will provide you with a vibrant ecosystem that gives you reach, new ideas, immediate feedback at scale and course correction.
The Bottom-Up Movement
The days of the one-man show - amazing visions that are executed top-down by a glorious leader - are coming to an end. Yet while the tech world is very crowded and fiercely competitive, the cream still rises to the top and serial innovators are shaping the industry. Elon Musk, for instance, has been busy driving several game-changing projects, ranging from payments to public transport. A visionary still has a huge role to play but they need the best talent with them.
A bottom-up model that enables your employees and your ecosystem to drive the vision will take over. This ultimately means innovating around the process over and above your role as a crystal ball predicting the market.
It also requires instilling a different mindset in the workforce. It doesn't matter if we are talking about 5 or 500 people, your team is your team and they need to be prepared and motivated to be a lot more open and prepared for change.
The technology landscape will never cease to surprise us and keep us on our toes. To be a visionary in tech means you'll be no stranger to sleepless nights. But it is exactly the constant challenging, inspiration and thirst for discovery that makes the tech world go round. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride!