I’ve always been a big fan of visionaries. The top of my list is Albert Einstein, unarguably the greatest mind of the 20thcentury. I’m also a huge fan of Elon Musk, Nicolai Tesla, Galileo, Louis Pasteur, those crazy fools over at DARPA, and the entire Google[x] team; brilliant scientists and inventors that believed that dreams were the stuff of innovation. They turned the world upside down with their theories, their mathematics, their world-advancing inventions, many times in spite of mockery, disdain, and even threats to their lives and means of income. The wordpassion rings hollow when their achievements are considered; achievements that did not just disrupt society; it fundamentally transformed it. They elevated it.
I’m not fond of lionizing individuals; we all know that no matter how brilliant a person may be, people are still people. We all have quirks, beliefs, behaviors, and actions that do not conform to what popular opinion demands of us. Beethoven was a well-known misogynist and misanthrope. Tesla was romantically linked to a pigeon and was an ardent supporter of eugenics. These comments are not meant to denigrate; rather, they are designed to oppose the principle of lionization. Fawning adoration of an archetype is a disservice to both an individual and to the collective consciousness of society.
Audacity of ideas is not an uncommon enough trait to resonate with me; many people have audacious ideas that never see the light of day. Great ideas are not necessarily in abundance, but they do represent merely the starting point. My inspiration comes from those who have the ability to convert those ideas into a value proposition that society simply cannot not dismiss. It is more than starting a company or building the next best must-have device; it is instead predicated upon a vision that inspires.
Look at Elon Musk – he did not come up with a rocket engine; instead, he crafted a vision of human exploration of Mars and made us all believe that he could do it; that we could do it. Not with money or technology; with American elbow grease and a “go-to-hell” rejection of the entrenched interplanetary business/scientific model of the last half century. Musk’s vision was not limited to ferrying cargo to the space station or creating the next generation launch vehicle. No; he wants to take us to Mars. That’s his vision. It’s so out of the bounds of consideration that one might be tempted to ridicule the man behind the vision. If that man was not Elon Musk. He made us want more. He has made us aspire.
As a technologist, I am enamored of cool gadgets, disruptive technology, and pretty much anything that requires batteries or needs to be plugged in. I get bent out of shape whenever Microsoft or Google or IBM release new technology, and I’m always looking for something different. But nothing – nothing – enthuses me more than a well-articulated vision from an inspired leader. Elon Musk’s audacity is compelling, but not nearly as much as his ability to project a vision that inspires, and his track record of achieving the impossible only serves to whet the imagination with the possibilities of what tomorrow may bring with him at the helm. Already he has invested in three different industries – solar power, automotive, and space, each with multibillion dollar success stories. He does not have the Midas Touch; rather, he projects a Midas Vision. Instead of looking for an underserved market to exploit or bringing one more “disruptive” technology to the masses, leaders like him construct a vision that is much grander, much more encompassing. The goal line is further out than the billions of dollars they make or the tools and technologies they bring to the market.
I want to leave you with a few words of advice from Elon Musk:
- Seek out and listen to negative feedback: This is the only way to make your self, your company, and your product stronger. It’s not enough to listen to the admirers. You need to know the gaps.
- Innovation requires thinking: It’s much harder to start with principles and work your way to a conclusion than it is to rely on analogy. Instead of binding yourself to previous experience, start with rudimental knowledge and construct reasoning from there.
- Work hard: 80 to 100 hours a week. There’s no such thing as working smarter, not harder. If you can work smarter, you should still keep working harder too.
- Personality before talent: The ability to work with someone is more important than the skills they bring to the table.
- Focus on detail: That’s what differentiates good from great.
- Tenacity: Give up only when you are forced to give up.
- Chaos: There must be room for failure, error, and doing things wrong or differently in order to accommodate innovation.
For the aspiring entrepreneur, I ask you not to think of disrupting the marketplace. Instead, I ask you to break it. Destroy it. Create something completely new. Don’t let your vision be fettered to the shackles of market dynamics; create your own market and define your own dynamics. Do away with conventional wisdom and forget what can be achieved. Inspire me with your audacity. Make me believe.
Jamal is a regular commentator on the Big Data industry. He is an executive and entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience driving strategy for Fortune 500 companies. In addition to technology strategy, his concentrations include digital oil fields, the geo-mechanics of multilateral drilling, well-site operations and completions, integrated workflows, reservoir stimulation, and extraction techniques. He has held leadership positions in Technology, Sales and Marketing, R&D, and M&A in some of the largest corporations in the world. He is currently a senior manager at Wipro where he focuses on emerging technologies.