Every business owner, leader and manager wants to have ‘vision’ or be considered a visionary. But what does mean exactly? According to an April 2013 article by Dave Lavinsky in Forbes, “Vision in business requires that you clearly see where you choose to be in the future and formulate the necessary steps to get your organization there. Creating and sustaining a vision for an organization calls for discipline and creativity. A business leader must have the passion, strength of will, and necessary knowledge to achieve long-term goals. A focused individual who can inspire his team to reach organizational goals is a visionary business leader.” Lavinsky cites passion, discipline, creativity, strength of will, knowledge and focus as the skills needed to be a visionary in business. Others believe the qualities of visionary leaders include openness, imagination, persistence, and conviction. Harvard Business Review says a visionary leader is opportunistic, diplomatic, an expert, an achiever, individualistic, strategic, and an alchemist. Arguably, these are all necessary traits. But Lavinsky stated first that a business visionary must clearly see where he/she wants to be in the future. So the starting point of being a visionary is to see with clarity.
In this context, Lavinksy was not referring to physically “seeing” with one’s eyes. Most likely, what he meant was seeing “in one’s mind” the where, what and how of an organization’s future… having a mental picture, so to speak. But, for most people, actual vision – as in the ability to see physically with one’s eyes – probably plays a part of being successful in business and life. Probably even a large part. Sight is a blessing which many scarcely give any thought to at all. But, without it, how many would have the life or business career they are currently living? And what role does actual eyesight play in an individual’s success in business? How many business people can be visionaries without vision?
I See, said the Blind Man.
Eyesight is not necessary for success. There have been many incredibly successful people who were either totally blind or vision-impaired. Most everyone knows of Helen Keller, who lost her eyesight and hearing as a toddler She was the first blind/deaf person to graduate from a college and went on to become a world-famous speaker, author and advocate for the disabled. And, of course, there is Louis Braille, who became blind after an accident, and went on to be the inventor of the Braille writing system. This system enables blind people to read by feeling a series of organized bumps representing letters. This concept has been beneficial to all blind people around the world and is still commonly used today. But success for the vision-impaired is not limited to those who have done things to help others without sight. For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only person to be elected President of the U.S. four times, had several disabilities including vision impairment.
There have been many successful scientists and inventors who could not see. Nathanael Wales, born legally blind, earned a Bachelors degree in engineering and began working full-time for the Department of Water Resources doing planning work on the expansion of three reservoirs in northern and central California. In 2004, he passed the exam to become a civil engineer. In 2007, he took a position as a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New York City, planning projects to protect the shoreline of Long Island and northern New Jersey from flooding and erosion as well as projects to improve harbor navigation channels and protect stream banks from erosion. Similarly, Dr. Geerat J. Vermeij is a renowned marine biologist who carries the title of Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geology at the University of California in Davis and is blind. Despite his lack of sight, he studies marine biology, the most visual of all the sciences, reads scientific literature, teaches, publishes, and does field experiments in oceans all over the world. Then there is Abraham Nemeth, born congenitally blind in 1918, who earned a doctorate in mathematics. To help him deal with the math concepts, he improvised a new Braille system so he could write down all the math notations. Later, it was adopted as the standard mathematics code in the U.S., known as the Nemeth Braille Code of Mathematics and Science Notation. He was a mathematics professor for 30 years at Wayne State University, inaugurating the graduate department in computer sciences there. Dr. Nemeth was also a self-taught piano player and wrote a Braille musical dictionary for the American Printing House. There are many other accomplished scientists who are sightless.
There have also been many very successful, vision-impaired people in the arts. Andrea Bocelli, Italian classical tenor, recording artist and singer-songwriter, was born with poor eyesight and became blind at age of 12 after a soccer accident. He has recorded 14 solo albums and nine operas, sold over 150 million albums, and performed for audiences all over the world. Likewise, Ray Charles, who became blind as a child, was another hugely successful singer and songwriter and is considered by the music industry as one of the top 100 musicians of the 20th century. Stevie Wonder, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, was born blind but became a musician at age 11. He has sold over 100 million albums to date, is a record producer and a United Nations Messenger of Peace. Alecia Alonso, a Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and choreographer, became vision-impaired at the age of 19. On stage, Alonso’s ballet partners always had to be in the exact place she expected them to be, and she used lights in different parts of the stage to guide her. Alonso danced solos in Europe and elsewhere well into her 70s.
Indeed, the list of successful, vision-impaired people is long. But when it comes to the world of business, is sight a necessity? Strictly speaking, it is not a must. But it is much more challenging for someone without sight to compete in the business world. Urban Miyares, president of the Disabled Businesspersons Association in San Diego admits that, while not impossible, it is more difficult for the disabled to compete in the able-bodied business world. Miyares, himself a blind and hearing-impaired Vietnam veteran, created the Forsythe Center for Entrepreneurship for those who are sight-impaired. A business person without sight has to compensate by being even more aggressive and working even longer hours just to be competitive… and the business world already pushes all people to be aggressive and work long hours.
In Business, Vision is Important
For people in business, the ability to see is critical. Could people like Richard Branson, Stephen Covey, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Paige, or Warren Buffet have been as successful as they are if they had been born without sight? It’s an impossible question to answer, but there are certainly many with sight who tried and failed to be as successful as these captains of industry and information. Ultimately, a business visionary is one who can see with his mind what is not yet clear to others; who sees the possibilities before they become obvious. Often, that involves looking where others do not choose to look, and examining things from a different perspective. Much of that introspection and examination is mental, not physical. But vision does play a big part of seeing opportunities and solving problems, especially in industries such as real estate, design, construction, retail and manufacturing. It is hard to imagine that Steve Jobs could have revolutionized computer design and functionality without being able to see how a computer looks and interfaces with a user.
As we take time for introspection and appreciation for what we have, we should each be thankful for the ability to see and how that makes life so much easier, richer and fuller. It makes it possible to spot the diamond in the rough and see opportunities where others see problems. Thanks to eyes that see, we are better able to be visionaries and succeed in business.
Quote of the Week
“Most of us who have healthy eyesight are extremely attached to our vision, often without being conscious that we are. We depend heavily on our eyes, and yet we rarely give them a second thought.” Rosemary Mahoney
© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.