Gene Wilder is among the best of the best. So many amazing movies from Blazing Saddles to The Producers are forever etched in our collective memories. How many of us find ourselves quoting his lines from Young Frankenstein?
It isn’t just the big movies. Even the smaller ones have continued impact. He made an appearance as Mock Turtle in one version of Alice in Wonderland, singing “Beautiful Soup.” To this day, I use it in conversation. Recently, on a rare vacation, my family was staring at the gorgeous blue waters. I said, “Isn’t this a beautiful soup?” They immediately knew the reference.
Like many others, I think there’s simply nothing better than the way Gene Wilder portrayed Willy Wonka. It was pure genius. And his lines! The lines that most often find their way into my mind at the oddest of times. And, truth be told, I have found myself staring, like Wonka does, off in the distance, imagining.
My hope is that he heard this first line after passing:
“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.”
Here are some of those Willy Wonka lines to remember the actor. If you’re a fan, you will likely hear Gene Wilder’s voice in your head as your read them. And, if you think about them, you’ll also find some wisdom that will make you think.
“We have so much time and so little to see. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.”
An artist I know loves to show me a blank canvas and describe, in detail, the painting. To her, it’s so clear. Where I see only a blank canvas, she sees an entire landscape full of vibrant colors.
An entrepreneur I know once took his family on a tour of a remote piece of property. He shared his vision for where buildings would go and all the customers who would be mingling in various parts of the land. The family couldn’t imagine it, but he saw it all vividly. And, today, it looks exactly like that. It’s a thriving business.
An author friend of mine creates characters in her mind. Month after month, she dreams about them, talks with them, listens to them. They become so real to her that, when she finally starts writing, it’s as if she is merely recording what happens instead of inventing it.
“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” –Vincent van Gogh
On a recent vacation, my wife was relaxing on a deck with a view of a mountain. As she often does, she was bringing people into her mind and praying for them one by one. Mesmerized by the beautiful scene in front of her, she decided to take a quick picture with her phone.
When we returned home, she was looking at her pictures and shared this one with a few close friends. Immediately, the responses started coming back. There’s something in the clouds!
“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” –Chuck Palahniuk
Rob-Jan De Jong is a speaker, consultant and faculty member at Wharton’s executive program on Global Strategic Leadership. His new book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, outlines what it takes to become a visionary leader. Sharing examples and principles from his research, Rob-Jan’s mission is to increase your personal visionary capacity. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about vision and the art of looking ahead.
“Anyone can grow their visionary capacity.” –Rob-Jan De Jong
As a CEO, I just loved this sentence: “Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” It’s really something for everyone, not only those with a title. How do corporate leaders unleash creativity and vision at all levels of the organization?
Empowerment and trust.
An important success factor is around empowerment and trust. A directive company culture is detrimental for people’s engagement. Having a sense of influence is a prerequisite for getting people to become involved in the hard work of engaging with uncertainty and anticipating the future.
“Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” –Rob-Jan De Jong
A second critical factor is fault tolerance. This naturally goes with empowerment – people will get it right and every so often they will get it wrong. These are the important moments of truth for you as the leader, as your response will set the standard for the culture that shapes from these moments. People will be on the lookout about how serious you are about empowerment. My simple suggestion is to not focus on what went wrong but to focus on what the person has learned.
“Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset.” –Rob-Jan De Jong
And a third factor that should not be underestimated is that you will also need to enable your people to do this. Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset. And it is often a step aside from the environment people have grown accustomed to, so you will need to enable your people to strengthen themselves in this area.
That might sound like blatant promotion for my work and my book, but I’m absolutely convinced that this has been a gap in management theory. Despite the widely acknowledged importance of ‘vision’ in leadership, little – if any – systematic support has been provided in terms of developing your visionary side as a leader in a responsible way. Scholars, business schools and strategy textbooks agree that a vision is one of the most powerful instruments a leader can have. And how you go about developing this side of your leadership has been met with tremendous silence.
It was my intention to fill part of this gap by offering a comprehensive perspective on the topic, original ideas, a developmental framework, various practices, and many stories and anecdotes to draw lessons from.
“Vision, the hallmark of leadership, is less a derivative of spreadsheets and more a product of the mind called imagination.” –Abraham Zaleznik