Vision. We all have it. The ability to sense what is beyond the range of immediate sight. Perhaps you have a vision for how the next year will play out, or maybe you have a vision for that app you always wanted to program or the novel you always wanted to write. The unfortunate reality is that though we can all feel our sense of vision, the vast majority of us cannot or do not act upon it. Then, of the small fraction who do, only a sliver are able to bring it to fruition. How small is the number of those who can bring their vision to bear again and again?
Two years ago, the world lost one such visionary when Steve Jobs passed away. For many associated with tech, Jobs was and is larger than life. There are others, certainly, Hiroshi Yamauchi of Nintendo for instance, whose bold ideas and unyielding resolve have driven their industries to new heights. This week, DYHAMB? is examining what it means to be a visionary; I’d like to take a look at a few candidates for my part.
What can I say that I haven’t already said? Most people discuss Steve Jobs’ tenure at Apple, especially after his triumphant return in 1997, in terms of the products that the company produced. The iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad were each shining examples of Steve’s vision. So too was the G4 Cube, a financial disaster, perhaps exemplified his vision even more so than the others. Meticulous detail, a focus on the internal as well as external design, and the vicious refusal to retain legacy technologies all helped define a Jobs driven product.
But there was much more to Jobs’ vision than the products his company produced. The company itself was the vision, and the products only a part. From the glass-walled retail impossibility that is an Apple Store, to the thousands strong crowds cheering his electric stage presentations, to the piece by piece construction of a company that could continue on in his absence, Jobs bent the world to his will. And when he couldn’t bend it, he ignored it, focusing instead on the next piece of his overall strategy.
Without the creative mind of Shigeru Miyamoto, the modern videogame landscape might have risen to the same economic heights, but the cultural gaming touchstones would certainly have been very different. Mario and Luigi, Bowser and Yoshi, armies of Pikmin, Donkey Kong, and for God’s sake Link and Zelda, all are the brain children of a man who for decades has emphasized player experience above all else.
And with Miyamoto, the vision doesn’t stop at simply inventing game characters, who though iconic, are significantly less complex than your average film protagonist. His design ideas made their way into physical control devices, hardware specifications, and gameplay mechanics, all in service of making a Nintendo game feel and play better than its contemporaries.
The PC. So much so has Bill Gates affected an industry, that his company and its software became synonymous with the device itself. Gates’ great vision was not in products, an area where his rival, Jobs excelled, nor was it in the corporate structure that Jobs made the capstone of his second tenure, it was Gates’ relentless pursuit of a computing world that accepted nothing less than Microsoft everywhere. And with that vision achieved, he left driver’s seat in order to pursue one of the largest philanthropic efforts in history with the Gates foundation.
Formerly of Lionhead Studios, now CEO of 22Cans, Peter Molyneux might seem out of place in a list with industry titans such as Jobs, Gates, and Miyamoto, who each defined their industries on nearly peerless levels. However, with his broad, shoot-for-the-moon design choices, and his incredible ability to hype a product only to see it so often fall short of the goal, Molyneux represents the visionary who continues to reach for his ideals in spite of endless technical limitations and financial constraints. Where the others worked within the bands of what was possible at the time (with the possible exception of Jobs, who on a few occasions surprised an audience with tech that appeared so impossible that it was assumed to be faked), Molyneux works in the realm of the wide-open dream. Whatever the technology is capable of at the time, his products reflect, though his vision is always much much bigger.
And All of Us
Above all, each of these visionaries was a creator. A builder of realities that before their input, did not exist. Quality, originality, or perseverance may have helped each stand out amongst his peers, but creation ties them all together. That’s vision, to conceptualize a possible future and to distort today’s reality into your tomorrow.
Or, better said, to “put a dent in the universe.”