Visionaries Tied in Knots

Posted by on Dec 2, 2013 in Active Vision, Featured, Uncategorized, Vision


Ever heard of the Gordian knot? It was a piece of rope so perfectly tangled that it became a legend in the city of Gordium, where it tied up people’s attention for hundreds of years. And when the great conqueror Alexander the Great encountered it, young, and fresh off of his first conquering spree, he couldn’t even find the end of the rope to begin the unravelling process. Frustrated, and unwilling to be daunted, he drew his sword and “untied” the knot by slicing the whole thing in half.

That action fulfilled the prophecy, and (according to legend) assured his place as the eventual ruler of Asia. It’s also been used as a metaphor for “out of the box” thinking for a millenium. But for the people of Gordium, using his sword instead of doing the actual work probably seemed like cheating. I’m sure that more than one resident, their voice lost to history, said something along the lines of “Well, anybody can do that.”

Of course, anybody didn’t. What made the story memorable, and the reason we still talk about it today, is that the person doing the cutting was someone whose vision (and tacticul genius) was powerful enough that the world would eventually start referring to him as “the Great”. The truth is, that once you conquer the world (or any world, really) the stories will start sticking to you.

That’s because, while anyone can have a vision, it takes more than a single great act to transform someone into a visionary. If you decided to fix the crack in the Liberty Bell you’d go down as a historical footnote; a jerk who solved a problem that people had little or no desire to see fixed. But if you also righted the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and restored the Roman Colosseum to its former glory, you might just get a reputation as someone who has a powerful vision for re-imagining the past back into the present, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen.

Toppling an ancient stone will gather you nothing more than criticism and scorn, and rightly so. But things done with vision, and in service of a great goal, will attract praise like a magnet. Inventing a smartphone when everyone else is hunkering down with their mobile phones, doesn’t make you a visionary: it makes you a Palm Pilot. What turns you into a legend is doing that after having already invented the personal computer and putting a jukebox into everyone’s pocket. Succeed enough times and your greatest failures simply become dramatic footnotes ( to your eventual spectacular successes.

Real, powerful change is jerky. Not just in the sense that it rips us out of complacency, but because it makes the people who were stuck in the old paradigm look ridiculous for not seeing or doing the very thing that you’re hailed a visionary for discovering. A lack of vision lets us question the minds behind that change, and challenge their authority.

Becoming a true visionary isn’t just about being in the right place at the right time—you need to be able to repeat it. What makes you Bugs Bunny instead of Daffy Duck is that you can pull off the same trick more than once.

Of course, plenty of people try to gather success without imagination and goals. “Disruption” is a hot buzzword these days, but it’s a terrible vision. CEOs trying to tear apart existing business models aren’t visionaries, they’re (mostly) garden variety jerks. Lighting the world on fire isn’t cool if your profits come from watching it burn. Having a vision won’t do you much good if it exists to justify anxiety, insecurity, or selfishness. While your skill set may be straightforward, it’s rarely profitable in the long run.

But if most CEOs are Daffy Ducks, let’s remember that being Bugs Bunny isn’t easy either. His main goal in life is really just to be left alone. What gets that rascally rabbit into trouble is that he’s constantly running into hunters, witches, gorillas, and even opera stars who are rocking his dreamboat. What makes his story interesting is the parade of jerks who constantly get in the way. Whether you’re trying to conquer the world, or just reach Pismo Beach, having a consistent, successful vision turns your acts into a narrative that people can respond to. It’s what justifies your actions, and convinces people to trust you.

Yes, you can get lucky, and just wander into success.  That’s the siren song of the one hit wonder. But, whether you want to be Bugs Bunny, Steve Jobs, or even Alexander the Great, it’s being able to repeat that luck that makes you famous, and leaves others following in your footsteps. Your vision is your narrative, and it’s what will transform your critics into fans.

Is your dream big enough? Do you have a vision that history will remember you for, and that inspires you to slice through the Gordian Knot?

The Gordian Knot:

Bugs and Daffy:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *