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How to become a visionary in five easy steps

Learn to see where others are blind

The young engineer was madly in love, so he felt a special thrill when his date laid the back of her head on his lap to gaze up at the stars. It was a clear, moonless night and the twenty-something couple sat on the grass in a secluded corner of the state park to spot as many constellations as they could. The engineer felt sublime contentment as he listened to the love of his life name of one constellation after another: Delphinus, Capricornus, Virgo, Libra.

But his contentment evaporated as a troubling thought surfaced: something's wrong with this idyllic scene. He surveyed the park and found nothing amiss. No one was watching them, no rain clouds were in sight and, although bears were known to sniff around the park, there were no predators present. What was it?

The engineer had learned to trust his instincts-it was part of what made him a good engineer-so he didn't let the uneasy feeling pass. Instead, he went into engineering mode and parsed each and every sensory input to diagnose what was wrong. At length, it came to him: my date's head-resting snuggly in my lap-- is too cool. Way too cool.

If her head were my laptop, the engineer thought, my lap would be uncomfortably hot by now. But my sweetheart's cranium, which houses a processing unit (brain) that is billions, if not trillions of times more powerful than the best laptop on the market, isn't even warm to the touch. How can that be? Powerful computers are hot computers, requiring fans , heat sinks -even liquid cooling in extreme cases--to keep them from overheating. The engineer stole a glance at his lover's head to just make sure there were no fans, plumbing or heat sinks. He knew it was irrational to look for such hardware on a human head, but it was equally irrational that a processing node with such awesome power would run

The engineer didn't solve the cool-head mystery that night (although he did spot a constellation he'd never seen before), and went home perplexed. However, if he had taken neuroscience in college, he would never have been perplexed in the first place. Neuroscientists have learned that the brain is an extremely efficient consumer of energy (calories from food) because it cuts corners and cheats. For example, instead of ingesting and processing all available information-and in the process consuming a tremendous amount of energy -- the brain throws away most of what it senses, and frugally focuses only on a tiny percent of information that's likely to be valuable.


Most people count three "F's" instead of the six that are actually there because their brains ignore the "of's". (When does an "of" actually mean much, after all?).

In their quest for cool efficiency, our brains also ignore vast amounts of auditory, tactile, olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) information. Until, I called attention to it, you weren't noticing the pressure of your butt on your chair, the sound of your computer's fan or any lingering smells.

Ignorant brains are efficient brains, and efficient brains run cool.

So what does your brain's temperature (or lack of it) have to do with becoming a visionary in five easy steps?

Everything. Another way of describing your brain's strategy of willful ignorance is blindness. Choosing not to see the "of's" in the FINISHED FILES sentence has the same effect as not being able to see them. Conversely, choosing to look for subtle cues such as the "of's," is the functional equivalent of having vision that others lack.

Thus, becoming a visionary is simply a matter of knowing where your brain's hard-wired blind spots are, then focusing your mind's eye into those blind spots.
The missing "of's" illustrate the first blind spot: our brain's don't see what they don't expect to see. You didn't expect the "of's" to carry any important data, so you tuned them out. In this example, the "of's" actually didn't carry any useful information, so you could hardly claim to be a visionary for spotting the pesky two-letter words.

However, sometimes critically important information hides in the unexpected. Look closely at this photo of a forest floor. Looks harmless enough, just a bunch of dead leaves and branches, right?

Wrong. The photo below shows that something important that you didn't expect, and therefore were blind to, is definitely there.

Our inability to see what we don't expect blinds us to opportunities as well as threats. Therefore, when we learn how to see into our blind spots, we'll almost always spot big wins we hadn't seen before.

For instance, the royal family of the tiny South Pacific nation of Tonga (population 109,000) now has rights to a significant fraction of the orbital slots for communications satellites over the Pacific because the royals saw big opportunity in the unexpected. Prior to Tonga's application for over twenty geo-stationary orbital slots-highly coveted because satellites in those slots stay fixed over the Earth, instead of orbiting around it-nations only applied for as many slots as they required to satisfy their own communications needs. But there was no regulation or law limiting the number of slots a nation could have, so Tonga outraged the telecommunications world by applying for over 20 slots, far more than they could ever use. The International Telecommunication Union ultimately granted Tonga only a third of the slots the island nation requested, but income from licensing fees and other uses of those slots has equaled up to 10% of the nation's gross national product in some years. Satellite industry insiders called Tongans cheaters; I call them visionaries!

You can be a visionary too. For instance, make a list of ten things you don't expect to happen in your business environment. When you're done, pay special attention to items on the list that you believe others-especially competitors-don't expect either. Then ask yourself what opportunities might accompany the unexpected events you've identified. For example, if you work in the packaged food business, what new products could you develop if working parents-reversing a decades-long trend-- went backing to cooking from scratch again? In completing this task (easy step number one), you'll almost certainly uncover a few big wins associated with unexpected events and earn the moniker visionary.

In later Long Fuse Big Bang blogs, I'll describe three other hard-wired blind spots that you can learn to see through (easy steps two through four), then test your Visionary Quotient (VQ®) to see how much you've absorbed (easy step number five). If you've kept a cool head while looking at your blind spots, you'll earn a high score.

Learn more at and take your Visionary Quotient (VQ)

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