The Visionary's Curse is real. Here's how to deal with it

 The Visionary's Curse - what is it and how to deal with it - The Mobile Spoon

Ever worked with a CEO or a founder who went so far with their vision that it made you lose faith in them? 

Or maybe it was you caught in a situation where your employees didn't share your vision? 

It's called The Visionary's Curse; a phenomenon that refers to the tendency of visionary leaders, entrepreneurs, and product managers to become overly focused on their product vision and ignore important feedback and data points that may contradict their assumptions and indicate that their product is not meeting customer needs or is not viable in the market.

“Being a visionary is a blessing and a curse, you're blessed to see things other people are not able to see but you are cursed to sit in it alone” -- David Banner

The curse is real and dangerous  

It takes endurance and persistence to build successful products, but going overboard can backfire in various ways:  

  1. Leaders get caught up in their own assumptions and ignore market feedback 
  2. The vision becomes too big to feel "achievable" 
  3. Leaders' ambition and optimism come at the expense of their team’s morale and productivity
  4. Team members lose independence and accountability
  5. Employees lose trust and confidence in the vision (or the leaders) 

I've been in a company once, where the founder and CEO went so far ahead with the vision it was merely impossible to follow. 

The farther away he went with his vision, the harder it was for us to align. 

So eventually, we gave up... 

Not only Founders 

This can happen to any manager out there that tries to make bold moves. 

It can be a VP of Products trying to change the product strategy or push for a pivot. It can be an R&D manager trying to make organizational changes or move to new technology.

The bigger your vision, the harder it becomes to communicate it properly and get their buy-in.

How do you avoid the Visionary's Curse? 

Here are a few tips that will help you break the Visionary's Curse and unleash your team's potential:

1. Trust your instincts but validate them repeatedly 

I'm a big believer in "product sense" (experience, intuition, creativity), but relying solely on good instincts is too risky. 

Test your assumptions, validate your hypotheses repeatedly, and seek out customer feedback and market data. 

If it works - keep going, but if it doesn't - dig deeper and figure out what's wrong and how to fix it. 

Share market validations with your team. That's the proof they need to clear their concerns and gain confidence. Feedback, interviews, experiments… transparency will their hearts and get their buy-in. 

2. Don't fall in love with your ideas

As Marty Cagan often says: 

“Fall in love with the problem, not with the solution.”

Reality shows that features are replaceable. Keep an eye on the problem you're trying to solve and be prepared to make changes as you move forward. 

Bias blind spots are part of the 7 sins that cause products to fail, so be careful. 

3. Bring your vision down to earth

When goals feel out of reach, skepticism takes over and weakens motivation. 

Break down your vision into smaller, realistic milestones.

I often use a technique called stepwise refinement which I learned from my first CEO. 

This top/down framework helps you break big goals into smaller outcomes, and then break those outcomes into concrete tasks. This exercise will prove that your vision is achievable (or not) and the smaller, more achievable outcomes will be easier for your team to digest. 

4. Write down your thoughts

I've seen brilliant leaders failing to explain themselves, again and again, causing confusion and frustration for both themselves and their teams. 

You can only be as great as your ability to explain your vision. 

If your team doesn't get it, it's on you to explain it better.

Write down your thoughts, long-term vision, working assumptions, interim milestones, risks, and opportunities. 

The writing exercise will force you to think things through and address potential concerns upfront. You'll get your thoughts straight and communicate them much better. 

5. Trust your team

You hired them for a reason. Work with a team to balance your vision with practical considerations and real-world data. Share your experience with them, what have you learned from talking to the market, and what evidence have you found that can make them more educated and aligned with your vision? Invite them to take part in the research and make them more engaged. 
If they push back - don’t underestimate it. 

6. Bring a strong "number 2" 

Jordan had Pippen, Messi had Di MarĂ­a.
Even they couldn't do it alone. 
I've written about the many benefits of having a strong deputy. One of those benefits is shaping the team culture. If you feel your team is not fully aligned with your vision, you need to change the dynamics fast. 
A strong "number 2" that is close to you and fully aligned with your vision can change the team dynamics dramatically in your favor. A strong number 2 can also back you up, take some of the operational load and help you communicate your vision with the team. 

7. Don't isolate yourself

Visionary leaders often feel lonely because no one can see what they can. 

Isolating yourself from others will only make things worse, so make sure to remain friendly and communicative with your team, even if you feel they don't fully understand your vision. 

8. Consult with people you trust 

It's easy to think the team isn't aligned because they're biased or because they're scared. Consult with someone neutral that you trust. It's a great way to find out what's wrong, and get an unbiased opinion. 

9. Focus

The more you spread, the less they will absorb.

We all know focus is key, but this is easier said than done, especially if you're the visionary type.

Just remember that every new idea is also another distraction from accomplishing your main vision so try to restrain your appetite, as much as possible. 

10. Repeat

You think about it a thousand times a day. They don’t. 

Leverage the power of repetition even if it feels redundant to you.  

11. Be prepared to compromise

Don’t mistake persistence for stubbornness, and embrace a pragmatic approach to clear obstacles out of your way to the top. 

That's it for this one, before you drop off - let's be friends on Twitter

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