THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
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Dare the Impossible – Achieve the Extraordinary.

Vol. 10, No. 6
www.stuffofheroes.com
(626) 150-1500 ext102

©1998, 2014 William A. Cohen, PhD 

Great Visions are Always Powerful

The vision held by the successful leader is extremely powerful partly because it is always before him. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking found that with great visions, “You have it, because it has you.” Such a vision is so strong that it can even appear in the subconscious to make things happen, and so strong that it can even continue through two centuries.

A Vision Helps Elias Howe Invent the Sewing Machine

Elias Howe was the inventor of the modern sewing machine. He had a strong vision as to how such a machine would work, with a needle moving in and out of the item to be sewed. But, instead of the needle being worked by hand, it would move 100 times as quickly because it would operate by machinery. There was just one problem. Howe couldn’t get his machine to work. The point would penetrate the cloth and drag the thread down with it. But when the needle was withdrawn on the upstroke, it either got entangled in the cloth or tore it.

Howe tried everything. He sharpened the needle at both ends. It still got entangled. He used a curved needle. Still no luck. But his compelling vision of a sewing machine wouldn’t go away.

One night he woke up after a strange dream. In his dream, cannibals on a South Sea Island captured him. As they made ready to cook Howe, they danced around him brandishing their spears. Howe noticed that their spears were very unusual. Each spear had a hole in its head where it was sharpened to a point. Through each hole was a length of rope.

When he awoke, he remembered his dream. In an instant, he realized the solution to the problem of the sewing machine: put the hole in the head of the needle and allow the needle to sew without extracting fully on the upstroke. Elias Howe had a compelling vision of his sewing machine to begin with. So much so that it appeared in his subconscious. But, what is a dream, but a vision?

 Can a 19th Century Businessman’s Vision Really Continue into the 21st Century?

A leader’s vision can be so strong that, if it is still correct, it can continue long after the leader himself is gone. But what about a business leader? P.T. Barnum was a nineteenth century businessman and showman. Some say it was he that said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” This may or not be so, but his vision was not that of an organization that cheated the public. Rather, it had to do with an organization that amazed the public. Barnum put together a show of the most unusual people imaginable. These included Tiny Tim, whose height was only eighteen inches, or a man so hairy, he was termed “the Wolf Man,” or a woman who was thought to be 150 years old. He took them on tours all over the world, and they amazed even the crowned heads of Europe. His show eventually grew into the world famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Barnum succeeded because he had a vision, but it was a nineteenth century vision. It was to bring live entertainment not only to the wealthy, but to the masses.

By the mid-twentieth century, television and movies and the fact that it became increasingly difficult to pitch circus tents near the big cities changed everything. As a result, sales plummeted. John Ringling North sold the circus to Irwin Feld in 1967 for $8 million cash. Feld turned the business around by abandoning tents and using convention centers.

However, it was his son Kenneth Feld, who recognized that while business conditions, demographics, and technology changed, Barnum’s original vision for the business was still correct. He took over the company in 1994 on the death of his father. “My goal was to have the largest live entertainment company in the world,” he announced. He succeeded. In ten years, he owned not only the circus, but Walt Disney’s World on Ice, Siegfried & Roy at Las Vegas’ Mirage Resort and George Lucas’ Super Live Adventure Show. Today, his shows play to close to 30 million people a year, and annual sales are estimated at something like a half a billion dollars. P.T. Barnum would have nodded in approval and understood. Barnum’s vision of entertainment for the masses marches on under Feld’s leadership.

So don’t think that vision are mere platitudes that large organizations emblazon on their walls. They can help you invent a new product, expand the nature and content of entertainment, or change the world.

THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT FOR LEADERS:

 

Recent Linked Articles by Dr. Cohen not Published in the Journal of Leadership Applications:

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