While the job of a CEO has many demands, it is his or her job to create possibilities. Possibility is abstract and requires clear thinking in the face of uncertainty. Notwithstanding, he or she declares a possibility as a future simply by saying ‘this is what the future will be’. It doesn’t matter if it’s the iPad or sending a man to the moon. The rest of the organization is responsible for transforming that possibility into reality. The challenge of declaring an abstract, uncertain future is that there is almost neverproof that the possibility can be achieved. Yet, the CEO stands for it by allocating resources to ensure it becomes reality.
Operating in an abstract and uncertain capacity is difficult for most of us because we have been trained, educated and socialized to think seeing is believing or show me the money. Therefore, most of us are uncomfortable declaring a future that doesn’t exist. At most, we can talk about accomplishing something only after we have proof it can be done.
Perhaps this is the reason for the growing trend of CEOs who focus on financial reengineering. It’s more tangible to buy back shares, restructure debt and change accounting principles to increase earnings and make the corporation look more valuable and profitable. While this strategy helps to increase the stock price for the short-term, it ensures that the future will be exactly the same as today.
On the other hand, those CEOs who are willing to declare possibility will continue to create opportunities where there was none. For example, Howard Shultz declared he would create the third place. The first place is your home. The second place is your job/office. The third place is now known as Starbucks. Shultz invented that possibility from nothing. Mark Zuckerberg invented the possibility of being able to communicate with friends and family anywhere in the world in real time. We know that as Facebook.
Before you start declaring future possibilities, you should get clear that there is a distinction between possibility and a pipedream. There are many people who talk about doing something in the future. However, they are unwilling to be responsible for that future. Nor do they have a past history to support it. For example, if I said I am going to fly to the moon next month, it would be a pipedream. There is nothing in my past to support aeronautic engineering. I have not studied it nor have I trained or prepared myself for space flight.
On the other hand, when John F. Kennedy declared a man on the moon, he had already spoken to astrophysicists who declared they could use atomic energy to propel a rocket into space and return it safely to earth. While they did not have proof, because it had never been done, they were grounded in enough research and exploration to discuss the possibility.
As you can see, there are very few people who are willing to declare a future without proof. Steve Jobs declared the iPad in 1983 and it failed. Thomas Edison failed at making the light bulb over 10,000 times. Declaring possibility is risky and difficult to assess an ROI (return on investment). As a result, we are trained and educated to stick with the tried and true if there is a reasonable ROI.
Except, if you want to become CEO, it would be wise to train and develop yourself in the discipline of inventing the future from nothing – abstract, uncertainty. To do that, you will have to learn to stand for it in the face of disagreement. And you will have to be responsible for it even when others advise you to forget about it. Possibility can be messy and chaotic. At the same time, the rewards are unmatched. What possibility are you willing to declare as your future?
What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know.