Vision. The pixie stardust for startups. The magic ingredient which sets apart the truly innovative and leading companies from the rest. Or so we tell ourselves…
I recently read this wonderful definition of what vision really is (and I am not talking about the standard definition of “vision is foresight (psychology) — the capacity to envisage future market trends and plan accordingly”:
(In the world of technology) vision is the ability to see potential in the work of others.
Think about this for a moment. Most of the people we attribute vision to, the Steve Jobs’ or Elon Musks’ of this world, excel at this. They can look at the work of others (in Jobs’ case the work of Steve Wozniak (Apple I and II), Jeff Raskin (Macintosh) and Jonathan Ive (iMac)) and see the potential in their work.
But vision is only one part of the equation. What makes these folks visionary is not just the fact that they have a vision but that they are willing to put everything on the line to realize their vision. And that seems what separates the wheat from the chaff — there are just not that many people who are willing to do this.
With that being said — I think you can train vision (to a certain extent). Look for the work in your field which is at the edges, read research papers, look at the crazy stuff being done in university labs, explore the unpolished alpha versions of products you can get your hands on; sit down the product and imagine what would be possible with this given time and effort. Draw up possible scenarios and try to assign a likelihood score to them. Do this regularly and you will see that it becomes easier and easier — and that your predictions will get more robust.