On “visions”


Sorry folks, this isn’t about him. This is about the other kind of vision that people keep talking about.

Over the years, I realised the word “vision” is a pretty good feature for detecting rubbish conversations. Every time when I heard somebody talking about “vision”, I almost immediately classify the conversation into the “bullshit” category, and I was almost always right.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with them, it’s good for them to have a vision, really.

For example, in one of his remarkable interviews, Linus Tovralds compare Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, and he made the point when he said, although many people love Tesla, some name their company after him (you-know-who), Linus feels he is more “Edison” than “Tesla”. While other people enjoy looking at the stars and the moon, he enjoy looking at the path under his feet, fixing the holes on that path which otherwise he might fall into. Nonetheless, Linus has no problem with people having great visions.

Yea good guy Linus, when you make 10 million bucks a year, you wouldn’t bother to waste your neural cycles on those non-senses.

Leaders in the industry keep talking about their visions, which is totally understandable. That’s how leadership works. They need to show that they have some vision, so that people follow them, work for them (often underpaid), and help build their dreams.

That vision, however, isn’t necessarily only for others. When you are too rich, I guess it would take a grand vision (or two) to get yourself up every morning, to push yourself to work, to make you feel your life has some meaning in it.

In any case, it makes sense.

People who are building startups are probably the ones who talk about their visions most often. They need the money, they need to buy the investors, and for that they need a vision, or make up one if they haven’t got any. So for this case, it’s fine for them too, since they have a clear motivation to brag about their vision, which can be either extraordinary or total crap (or both).

The most annoying type of vision is the ones from Wannabe Entrepreneurs. Those could be mediocre engineers who are sick of their jobs but don’t dare to quit, fresh PhD students whose egos are overfed by the academia for too long, etc… I’ve met many of those. Their story often goes like this: oh btw, I got this awesome vision about improving X in Y by using Z. I think if we move fast, we will be the first. So I need to find somebody to realize this vision for me.

That’s the problem. Since when entrepreneurs are the ones who got a vision, but couldn’t do it himself, so he hires a bunch of people to do that for him?

I don’t think entrepreneurship works that way.

If you couldn’t do it yourself, why the heck would people believe that you could lead them to success?

Oh I hear you are saying that you actually could, but you wouldn’t, because blah blah blah (maybe because you are too good for dirty jobs)? Dear, like anything else in Engineering, it’s all about dirty work. It’s dirty work that drives progress. You can talk a lot about what you know (or pretend to know), but if you can’t deliver anything with your bare hands, then the joke is on you.

Of course, in some certain markets, at certain time, people with only vision and no action could still make money, and a lot of money. For instance, when the market are at peak for some crazy hype, then this kind of entrepreneurship might work. But I haven’t seen one, except some very ridiculous cases.

All in all, it’s good to have a vision. In fact I believe any serious people would have some form of vision in their particular area of interest. But the fact is nobody gives a damn about your vision. The only thing they care is your action, and results, if there is any.

So please, stop bragging about your vision. Start action. You might probably get something done in the future.

To conclude, it would be relevant to mention people who don’t bother bragging about vision, even when they have the authority to do so. Geoff Hinton once said in his lectures, that he isn’t gonna predict the future for more than 5 years ahead, because doing so is like driving on a foggy road. You couldn’t possibly see too far ahead, so you wouldn’t know behind the fog is the road or a brick wall.

Another example is Alan Turing, who said “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”.

And I believe he means it, really.



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