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I’m sitting in a beautiful, brand new, very big airport built in the middle of a vast nothingness. I’m in Dakar, Senegal.
The president has a vision for what this part of Senegal will be in 15 years. The airport area will one day be part of a sophisticated new city called Diamniadio. He sees Diamniadio as a modern center of commerce, government, and entertainment when it’s finished.
But it’s not easy to see the vision as I sit here in the empty desert looking out at the runway, because the sand and dust blowing by have reduced visibility to nothing but a blur.
Even when the sand stops blowing and the visibility clears, it’s still hard to see because so little of this new city has been built. It’s mostly empty land pierced by a brand new highway–one with very little traffic.
This is an awkward moment in the president’s vision for Senegal. The airport is bigger than currently required, and it’s located in an area that’s not yet developed. The airport is ready for prime time, but the rest of the new development isn’t.
This place is a bit like a toddler with a big head. Toddlers all too often have heads way too big for their bodies. They look weird, don’t you think? The rest of their body hasn’t quite grown to fit the head. It’s most definitely an awkward moment.
You’ll doubt yourself when the pieces don’t yet match
Your vision will have awkward moments too.
It’s awkward when you lease more office space than you need because you’re certain you’re going to grow into it. It’s unsettling when you’ve purchased a high-speed document scanner that’s way too big for your current needs, but just right for the future. It’s frightening when you commit to technology development expenditures for the coming years, without the revenues flowing in now to cover the bills you’re agreeing to pay.
Building the law firm you see in your mind has awkward moments. Sometimes the law firm head is too big for the body. It happens.
Thankfully, there’s nearly always someone nearby to tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Here come the critics–you can always count on them to show up and try to bring down the visionary. They’re like moths to a flame.
When people see things out of whack, with the wrong proportions, happening out of what they think is the right order … well, some folks will think you’re crazy. Some of them will self-confidently assert that you’re on the wrong path. Every visionary attracts resistance, obstructionists, and doubters. The critics never build a damn thing themselves, but they have endless energy for attacking ideas. Be ready.
The doubters will make you worry. There will be moments when you wonder if they’re right. You’ll worry that they know something you don’t. You’ll feel the stress of uncertainty. You shall overcome.
Creating a vision is hard. Sticking to it, even in the awkward moments–especially in the awkward moments–is harder.
Keep communicating the vision
We’ve watched cities across the globe sprout up from nothing. In Las Vegas we saw a city rise from the desert like we’re seeing in Senegal. Big, new capital cities have been built from scratch in Malaysia and Myanmar. Grand cities have literally been created out of nothing. In China, it has been done more times than I can count.
A vision can become tall buildings, highways, commercial establishments, homes, religious buildings, sporting arenas, mass transit systems, power, water, sewer systems and everything else required to service millions of residents. From nothing comes something–something big. Something that could not come to fruition in the absence of a powerful vision.
If cities can be built from nothing–literally raw, undeveloped land–then you can build your law firm from your foundation of education and knowledge. But expect naysayers, even if your vision isn’t as grand as a new city.
Don’t let the opponents, the it can’t be done crowd, the jealous, petty, small-minded folks who can’t see anything bigger than themselves, bring you down. Get inspired, stay inspired, keep the vision alive in your brain. Seeing it, and sticking to your plan, takes a strong belief in your vision.
It’s your job to keep the vision alive. You’re the person who turns words into actions, so that the actions result in creation. The communication of the vision is a core piece of bringing it to fruition.
Before, there was just a desert. Now, there is an airport.
Before, there was just a road. Now, there is a highway.
Today there is sand, but soon enough, there will be buildings all around. A decade from now there will be thriving businesses. Two decades from now there will be a world-class city.
The president of Senegal must keep reinforcing the vision. He has to keep it alive for his people in speech after speech. You must do the same. You are the president of your vision. You are the keeper. You must keep it alive for yourself and for your team.
It’s your airport, see it anyway you like
When I look out the big windows of this modern airport in the desert, I see sand: lots of sand with a control tower and a big radar standing out in the middle of it. I’m struggling to see the new city.
From the same windows, the Senegalese president sees a thriving community, filled with his people, living the lives of people who live in a successful, developed, modern city. He sees progress and prosperity, while I see only sand.
There will always be someone, like me, wondering why you’re doing what you’re doing. We’re blind to your vision. Don’t let us get in your way.
Walt Disney didn’t let them stop him. Neither did Steve Jobs. Bill Gates built it, handed it off, created a new vision and is now far down his philanthropic road.
To the visionaries go the spoils
Obstacles are just part of daily life for visionaries. The Google founders have persisted. It hasn’t always been easy.
Elon Musk at Tesla and Jeff Bezos at Amazon are encountering obstacles, and so will you.
Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook is taking on water, the naysayers are piling on, but he doesn’t let the critics slow him down. Zuckerberg does what he does with your data even as the government, the public, and many of his users object. But through it all, many of us check our Facebook accounts a dozen times a day, and Zuckerberg is doing all right, whether we like his approach or not.
See your vision vividly and keep going. Inspire your team, keep communicating, and bring your people along on the journey. Work through the awkward stages. It’s only out of balance, off in proportion, or going in the wrong direction to those who don’t see the vision. When they’re able to see the finished product in their mind’s eye, they understand that what they see now is simply a work-in-progress. Some pieces are finished, some are under way, and some are not yet started.
Keep seeing it in your mind. You are the holder of the vision. You are the guardian who must stay clear. When you can see it, you can keep building. When you can see it, you aren’t distracted by the awkward moments. When you can see it, you can build it, while everyone else is doing the same old thing, in the same old way, in the same old place.
To me, this airport is built out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t yet understand the vision. I can’t help but wonder why they stuck it out here alone. But that won’t be true for long. This airport is evidence that things are happening, the plans are coming to fruition, and before long the vision will be reality.