Innovators versus Visionaries – Sal J Kitololo

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In order to clarify the distinction between these terms that have almost been seen as synonymous, I think we must look at working innovation versus the operation of vision. Is this nit-picking? No. As long as innovation is seen mainly in the context of vision and visionaries, it will be largely ineffective. Vision is not Innovation; innovation is not vision – they must be seen separately to be seen clearly.

As well, individuals who are both innovative and visionary need to understand and separately identify the two approaches if they desire to be effective and get the most out of both approaches. In some contrasting areas vision and innovation are capable of crippling (and metaphorically neutralising) each other. Pho Magazine will dedicate time to these areas over the next few posts in order to aid innovators, visionaries and those individuals who are both as much as possible.

So put basically to begin seeing the two approaches in contrast, VISIONARIES INTRODUCE NEW THINGS from the invisible world of the imagination into the visible world of material experience; INNOVATORS COMBINE, USE OR INTERPRET EXISTING THINGS IN NEW WAYS and in doing so change the world. Both share aptitude for rare insight and fertile imagination, but innovation is the re-combination, reformation, re-organisation, re-engineering etc. of what’s quite common to us. This re-combination is the central way innovators create value. Visionaries aren’t the re-combiners innovators are; rather visionaries see a whole new reality in their imagination that for almost everyone else seems impossible. Visionaries have to do a bit more creating or convincing to get their visions realised. Innovators on the other hand do their thing sometimes for a while before the new value is recognised. This is seen in the disruptive innovation curves represented by today’s innovation theorists.

Is this distinction real or imaginary? Does it really help in approaching innovation or not? This distinction is valuable because it highlights different objects for imagination: visionaries see a whole new thing, knew knowledge, perspective or information; innovators see new arrangements or combinations in their imagination. Both make excellent entrepreneurs if they work within their approaches but they create value in different ways. Visionaries for example conceived the telephone and telecommunications industry while innovators conceived computers as telephony and created Skype. Visionaries sired new technologies. Innovators birthed new applications. One group imagined what didn’t exist while the other imagined what the things that exist could mean if rearranged.

Visionaries approach the world with new possibilities and new realities. Innovators work towards new paradigms and new regimes. The Wright brothers were visionaries I’d propose. The founder of RyanAir is an innovator I’d suggest. I’d suggest also that Henry Ford was a visionary-innovator who driven by an over-riding vision gave us many innovations. Alfred Sloan the “father of the modern corporation” was an innovator in my book. Winston Churchill at the height of his career was a visionary politician; Miles Davis a visionary musician; Pablo Picasso an artistic innovator; Andrew Lloyd Webber an innovator of the theatre.

The primary interest in the business world in the early 21st century is in innovation. Vision and innovation are complementary and share many similarities, but today the focus is on how to make business, enterprise and indeed all of society innovative. We desire innovative leadership in every area.

As we explore innovation vis a vis vision here at Pho Magazine, I hope it will emerge that both innovators and visionaries are desirable and that where their approaches differ, they both supply separate but critical elements to the leadership we hope for in this 21st century, and beyond if possible.

In the next post I hope to begin exploring the contours of the innovative approach and contrasting them with what we already know about the visionary approach.

The Emerging Creative Innovators of the Early 21st Century
Defining Terms

The primary focus now of Pho Magazine is the business of Innovation and of Vision. These two terms are very in vogue today. They are similar but with significant, maybe critical, differences. The mind of an innovator is quite different from the mind of a visionary, and they are both very important in today’s postmodern economies and world. So it’s good to start by defining terms.

Visionaries are those people driven by a consuming vision of what the world is not. They passionately sell their vision and work tirelessly at times to bring these visions into fulfilment. They are sometimes misunderstood, but they become powerful engines of progress. Since the mid-nineteenth century many such individuals have become prominent and captured world attention. They emerged in every field and new ones are still coming into view. Their hallmark perhaps is their confidence in what most people think is impossible. They change the world irrevocably by their visionary pursuits.

Innovators are those individuals who “change the whole game”; they begin new things that go on to become the norm. Their difference from visionaries is that creative innovators are not usually driven by compelling vision; rather they push forward against every obstacle due to some sense of mission or driving purpose. Sometimes they are visionaries too, but most times they’re practical people willing to do new things because the changes are better. The things they introduce us to are “disruptive”. This means they change industries, countries or whatever field they operate in. They introduce paradigm shifts and lifestyle changes. And for Pho Magazine, it is the way they do these things that is interesting.

Currents on the Earth: Innovation and Vision
Maybe for sociological or other reasons, approaches to life and its challenges change over time. For a long time before the visionaries arose in about mid-1900s, the established way of accomplishment was knowledge and education. Discoverers were those who sought out new knowledge because once things were known progress was inevitable. Then the visionaries came, many of them American mavericks with strange ideas and beliefs about the nature of the world. True they borrowed a leaf from Galileo’s book, but they didn’t just theorise and postulate. They invented; they made prototypes. Their vision drove them to prove strange hypotheses and develop most of the technologies that contour our world today: electricity, radio, telephony, aeroplanes, motor vehicles, microwave ovens, computers, etc, are all products of iconoclastic visionaries in the last 150 – 200 years.

These things move like waves. Now the entire world economy is like a train being switched from one set of rails to another. A new current moves across the globe and now we have not visionaries trying to accomplish the impossible driven by the convictions of their vision; rather innovators are taking what exists and combining it in new ways to totally disrupt the norms and usher in new forms. A quick example is Skype and what it is doing to the world of established telecommunications.

Innovation and Vision Together

The radical conviction of Pho Magazine is that the style and approach of visionaries and innovators is different and that misunderstanding these differences makes the emerging wave of innovators less effective. Creative innovators move by different drivers (motivations) and have different styles from visionaries. Where creative visionaries speak of the imagination, innovators prefer to talk of work and experiment. Where visionaries capture our sense of wonder with their magnificent ideas, innovators focus on function and effect. Visionaries are dramatic; innovators rarely care for theatrics as long as they get things done.

Both are important to the world today. There are 3 types of people Pho Magazine aims at: the creative visionaries; the creative innovators, and; the individuals who are a mix of both.

Contrasts between Innovators and Visionaries

Pho Magazine is about ideas. Over the next few posts, the focus will be on the qualities necessary in effective innovating and how this contrasts with being an effective visionary. Where visionaries take a male approach and seek to dominate nature, innovators take a female approach trying to birth new nature. Innovators possess what can only be called “spirit-power”, an electric presence that drives them forward; visionaries by contrast encapsulate “form-power”, an ability to fundamentally alter and beautify perception to allow in new possibilities. In other words visionaries are “prophetic”. Being true to vision is very content based while being a true innovator requires a different kind of integrity. The pressures on creative visionaries are very different from those felt by creative innovators; in fact while one group must endure pressure the other does best to embrace pressure! Even visionary perversions differ from innovators’ perversions. Pho Magazine will cover this and other ground with some degree of clarity over the next few weeks I hope.

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Last modified: February 6, 2018