• Gretzky, Gates, Zuckerberg: Can they see the Unseen?

    by  • December 4, 2011 • Leadership, Life

    It takes a knack to see the unseen. Some call it a sense, a gift from God bestowed upon the chosen few. We’ve witnessed this sense in our greatest athletes. Wayne Gretzky had a knack of skating where he knew the puck would be or passing behind his back where he knew a teammate would be. Larry Bird moved a split second before an opponent’s ball toss to make the steal. Joe Montana calculated the movements of everyone on the football field. Each superstar athlete saw the play before it happened.

    Superstar entrepreneurs also see the play before it happens. Visionary excellence is no longer debated as a key success factor for entrepreneurial success. The business world witnessed this in such notables as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey. Did any of these leaders lose their sense of vision once they created their billion dollar enterprises? Not in the least. In fact, their hopes and dreams magnified. Steve Jobs believed he knew what people wanted before they did. In his mind, there was no point asking; he knew they would love the i-pod, the i-phone and the i-pad.

    With this kind of success so well-publicized, you’d think every major corporation would encourage their leaders to practice a similar philosophy. This is not the case, especially within the “old economy” industries. The constraint in most of these companies is the fear of failure. And although pundits continue to encourage entrepreneurial thinking for stagnating mega-businesses, these bureaucracies can’t break from risk-averse management. Their marketing teams research everything to death. Fundamentally, they are asking their consumers for permission. They proudly claim the consumer is the boss. Steve Jobs never made this claim. Neither did Mark Zuckerberg or Starbucks’ Howard Schultz. If Howard Shultz had based his Starbucks vision on a blind taste test between a dark-roasted, full bodied coffee against the milder, middle-of-the-road Folgers, there would not be a $10 billion dollar business today.

    Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have opted for faster horses.” See the unseen. Have the courage to give your customers what they didn’t know they wanted.

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    3 Responses to Gretzky, Gates, Zuckerberg: Can they see the Unseen?

    1. Martin Birt
      December 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      I think it is pertinent to ask what is behind that ability to define and apply a vision. I think Malcolm Gladwell mentioned Gretzky and Gates in his 10,000 hour rule. That is, the ability to move performance into the extraordinary needed at least 10,000 hours of practice. I’ll bet everyone you mentioned in your post at some point in their career developed their entrepeneurial ability to be were the puck was headed by out working most mere mortals.

    2. John
      December 4, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Martin. Your observation reminds me of the Louis Pasteur quote . . . someting along the lines of chance favoring the prepared mind in the field of observation. The other that comes to mind is the “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” Not sure who came up with that, but it speaks to your point about practice and hard work.

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