That is, we can certainly be creative without having vision. We could, for example, run around in our jammies with buckets on our heads.
One space for creativity in business and technology is the space of “design”. To design anything is to plan, fashion or sketch out, so designers of strategies and designers of software plan or sketch out what they are producing.
They take what is abstract and give it real properties, and they refine the starting point, giving it “shape” by in the face of restrictions, limitations, threats, obligations, opportunities and timing.
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.
So… check the box if you do that when you design or write software or develop a strategy for your customer. My hunch is that you do.
Moving on to vision
Whether or not “the customer is always right”, it stands to reason there is always the chance that what you produce for yours may not meet with their satisfaction, simply because your vision of the solution and theirs could differ.
You “hope” your client has a vision of what they want produced, but in my experience they often look to external help in order to refine that vision.
Again, creativity is called to act, but we have to go beyond creativity to provide the additional vision. (A colleague and friend of mine calls this “conspiring for their success”.)
the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be: prophetic vision; the vision of an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship aside, the more general distinction about “anticipating that which may come to be” requires insight into threats, obligations and opportunities and a fundamental knowledge about mechanisms for change.
In this, I wonder if the consultant may actually have an advantage over their client in part because their insights span other businesses and other domains.
Expertise in specific areas contributes to powerful thinking in those areas, but it can be difficult to anticipate anything specifically if you haven’t already experienced it.
Here I will draw a distinction between “visionary” as an adjective and as a noun. This is important, because we often speak of “visionary leadership” as in the title of this post, but the adjective form of the word literally means:
purely idealistic or speculative; impractical; unrealizable.
Here is where my thinking can get self-defensive. As a consultant, I have made comments that were idealistic. I have spoken in abstractions that others have found “impractical”.
I have to guard against that, and sometimes it means taking my customers into a visionary space for a while and then letting us drift together gracefully back to the planet. Anyone working in a highly creative capacity may need to do that from time to time.
So coming back to visionaries (as a noun), we have “a person of unusually keen foresight”. That is the nice version of the definition… there is another that is essentially “dreamer”. Regardless, the key is that “unusually keen foresight” may show up as “idealistic” or “speculative” to those who are more practically-oriented in their thinking.
Meanwhile, the visionary “sees” the outcomes as totally producible, even inevitable or unavoidable… and just needs someone pragmatic to make it happen.
A blend of visionary and pragmatic
In his “Enterprise Design Map”, Dr. Fernando Flores balanced the concerns for visionary and pragmatic leadership. In that kind of situation, deep domain expertise and institutional knowledge on the practical side meet with the speculative plans of the visionary to produce a winning situation.
The moral of the story – vision and creativity are not the same, though vision requires a degree of creativity. On an executive team, in a client/vendor relationship or within a software development team, look for combinations of visionary and pragmatic people who can work together to make the insight, foresight and anticipations of the visionary into real value for your business.