I remember hiring a new financial controller in the 90s in Bangalore for MACH. After joining he came to me in some distress. He informed me that he had crunched the numbers and there was no way we could make money by “selling air” to people. We were in the mobile telecommunications industry at a time when the average monthly bill was in the thousands of dollars. This was more than the annual income of many Indians. Now fast forward to 2017. In India, there are more than a billion mobile subscribers and the average monthly bill is less than $3.
I confess to having doubts when the Financial Controller showed me the numbers. We started exploring and implementing outsourced shared services for the group. An alternate source of revenue should the main business fail. But it did not and in some years we had growth rates of 60%. We were riding on a vision for a new world based on being able to communicate anywhere anytime.
I remember some of these visionaries informing us that even children would someday have mobile phones. They were met with that polite laughter reserved for eccentrics from the audience. Yet they were right on the mark and for someone who went along for the ride of my life, I am grateful.
Now for the hard part. Who are the real visionaries? Those dreamers whose dreams are going to come true. They ones who can see the patterns in human behaviour and technology and project them on to a future. There are plenty of people informing us that they are on to the next best thing and an equal number who claim to be able to pick the real winners but I have my doubts about most of them. Some people have made piles of cash betting on the right ones while others have lost equally large amounts.
My experience has been that visionaries have a certain personality type. They are usually the ones who like to test or break the rules. They rarely start their working life for the big corporations. They like fluid environments which they can shape. They don’t have conventional ways of thinking. They have a high tolerance for risk. They tell it like it is and don’t care if you laugh at them.
What do you think?