Paying Attention: the Search for Vision

Historians tend to write about great personalities as if they possessed transcendent genius, as if they were capable of creating their visions and sense of destiny out of some mysterious inner resource. Perhaps some do, but upon closer examination it usually turns out that the vision did not originate with the personality but rather from others. For example, Harold Williams told us that, when he arrived at California's UCLA to take his new position as Dean of its Graduate School of Management, “it was really the faculty that brought together the concept of what it is we ought to do. They had the vision.” Others looked elsewhere. John Kennedy spent a great deal of time reading history and studying the ideas of great thinkers. Martin Luther King Jr. found many of his ideas in the study of religious and ethical ideologies as well as in the traditions of his own and other peoples. Lenin was greatly influenced by the scholarship of Karl Marx, in much the same way as many contemporary business leaders are influenced by the works of leading economists and management scholars. Alfred P. Sloan's visions for the future of General Motors were greatly shaped by the prevailing cultural paradigm – the “American Dream” and the role of capitalism in it. Steve Jobs at Apple and Edwin Land at Polaroid were able to develop their visions from logical processes, mostly by seeking the technical limits of known technologies.

In all of these cases, the extraordinary ...

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