A Vision is a Lonely Place

A vision is a curse. The thing not seen sits just behind the screen, coursing through your veins as a fire. Burning down reason and pragmatism in its urgency to be born, to become a material reality.

It is a madness, that excludes the mundane from its consideration. You wish to speak out – to cast in words what is clothed in the mists of possibilities, but no words consent to carry the fire. And you are left holding it in hollow of your breast. Will it burn down the form that bears it, or will the clay of mortality be transmuted by the fire?

Cassandra, The Archetype

Ajax_and_Cassandra

 

Perhaps the best archetype of a visionary comes from Greek mythology as Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy. She is given a boon by Apollo to see the future but, perhaps due to the vagaries of godly nature, also curses her that none would believe her words. The delicious irony of it all, to see and yet not have anyone believe! The helplessness of being unable to guide her kin away from their destined doom.

Of course this is an archetype, an idealized personification of the visionary type. Reality is far away, and diluted many times over, from this essence. But however miniscule the vision, it comes with a proportionate sting.

 

 

The Problem of Reality

The above thoughts will make perfect sense for those who have had an intense creative urge. Not just the artistic or the literary variety but even the more pragmatic and technological variety.

If your vision is sufficiently advanced, it is almost a given that reality will refuse to entertain it, to see the concrete lurking behind the possibility.

This is indeed a hard phase for any creator or visionary. The solutions offered by books on harnessing your creativity, being effective innovators etc. are rather simplistic and offer rational solutions to a state that is beyond reason.

Reality is a complex machinery, there seems to be a method but it eludes any formulation. Those who intuit a method, do so in hindsight but never when in the eye of the storm. The management gurus and their ilk study the cadavers of the past to figure out the elixir of the future.

The Magic Word for Creators

There is no single incantation that will purge the vision into reality. No single act that can be the bridge between possibility and reality.

What is required is a sustained aspiration to hold the vision within and a multitude of numberless acts that chip away at reality. The dream can be made real if fuelled by relentless pursuit. Not the mad rush of the intoxicated, expending a fiery passion on a single lunge. But the unyielding will of a desert nomad moving towards an oasis, or perhaps the will of Yogi seeking to quell thought.

Ugly Adolescent Phase of Startups/Products

Fred Wilson of A VC captures the details of being in a trough after the initial high of launching a product. I quote a pertinent passage below.

The ugly adolescent stage is when you’ve built the product and are now building the business. It is when the team grows beyond the intial founding group and not everyone is getting along so well. It is when you are no longer that "bright shiny thing" that everyone wants to talk about. It is when your users are complaining that the service is not reliable or they hate that new feature or interface. It is when you have to figure out how to make money and get profitable. It is when the founder starts to wonder whether this CEO thing is for him or her. It is when you need that next round of financing and it isn’t so easy to raise this time.

Having conceived and launched a product this year I can utterly vouch for the generalities and specifics of what Fred mentions in the post.

Of course I have done this within the framework of the current firm I work for but it does not change the messiness in any fashion. In fact, if anything, it only gets more difficult because not only are you dealing with external competitors, enterprise customers with their glacial decision making speeds, looking for people who have the rigor to build a product but also have to deal with internal politics and organizational bureaucracy. And that can severely test anybody.

So far I have lacked a framework to understand what the heck is happening in my own context. Fred’s post has helped clarify that this is just another phase that has to be overcome and others before me have done the same.