A visionary is someone who understands the problem at a level of abstraction such that when a potential solution appears, he can spot how it might fit the need, even though it isn’t packaged in a box with a label that says, “Solution to the problem”.
Back when the web happened along, I happened to be studying ways to deliver large amounts of maintenance data to airlines online. The problem was complex. Airlines wanted updates immediately; an updated CDROM every 90 days was not sufficient. Large data transmissions were tedious and error prone. All the client reader solutions required that customers buy and install certain hardware and software.
When http and the Mosaic browser appeared, I instantly saw in it solutions to many of these problems. What’s more, the more I looked at the potential capabilities, the more I saw of possibilities for solving other problems that I had familiarity with. The list seemed to be endless.
At that time, the official word on the web from all of my management was that it was just a fad and would never be a company standard. Somewhere in the archives of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company is a request form with my name listed as the petitioner recommending that http and the web browser (Mosaic was the only one at that time) be adopted as an architectural standard. Attached to it is a copy of my long list of potential applications / problems we could solve using it. That list had been forwarded around the company so much that today, it would certinly be caught by a spam filter for all to fwds in the subject line.
Resistance to such a vision seems like nonsense now, but at the time, I was speaking heresy. And i was speaking it anyone and everyone that would listen.
A colleague chided me saying “To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. He was right. And now, after nearly two decades of the World Wide Web, it is plainly evident that everything was in fact, a nail.
I saw the future corectly; even my outlandish vision was a gross underestimation. My only regret is that I was in an ill position to capitalize on it properly. I didn’t start or join a dot.com and I struggled to find a niche among others who shared the same vision. As the sci-fi stories often conclude, seeing the future and being able to do something about are two different things. I have, however, gotten a little better at it than before.
These days, I have a large box of hammers and like collecting news ones. Some I discover, others I make. Nails come in all shapes and sizes. I still spend a lot of time studying them. And I when it comes to solving problems effectively, I hit the nail on the head on a routine basis. It’s what I do.
If you have a good hammer, don’t be shy. But do study about nails.
- roger, a self-proclaimed visionary and nail hammerer