How do you know if you are banging your head against a brick wall? What is the difference between being stubborn and being tenacious? When is the right time to give up?
I am not sure that the answer to these questions ever is obvious.
A friend of mine has been doggedly pursuing a business idea for 3 years. It is a brilliant concept and potentially transformative for society. He has been astonishingly tenacious. He has suffered many knock backs, but has come back every time, having learned a new approach and made some changes. It has not been easy, but the simple act of sticking with it through thick and thin has brought the project close to fruition. You can connect with it here.
There is immense power in sticking with something, but as much as sticking with the right thing can lead to great success, sticking with the wrong thing for too long can lead to disaster. One is visionary the other is delusional – how do we tell one from the other?
Prince Ludwig of Bavaria was considered delusional when he built the fantastic (in the literal sense) Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, partly because he said it was to be seen from the air. The castle was completed in 1898 – just four years before the Wright brothers achieved powered flight and is now a major tourist attraction. Visionary or delusional? Ludwig was placed under house arrest and died in mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards.
Perhaps the key is who, if anyone follows. As Derek Sivers explains in his memorable “Shirtless Dancing Guy” video “the first follower transforms the lone nut into a leader.” and perhaps also from delusional to visionary. The role of the first follower is critical in conferring credibility, in shaping and communicating the vision to the next audience and also sometimes in maintaining the courage and commitment of the visionary.
I have been in the role of first follower for my friend mentioned above. As we have sought the most authentic way forward we have experienced a full range of responses, from strong support and take over attempts, to confusion and condemnation. Every one of these responses, negative and positive, has added to our understanding and helped us shape our plans.
And perhaps this is the defining distinction between vision and delusion. The visionary is committed to their purpose, but can take on feedback, the delusional remains isolated.
I cannot resist adding in a cycling example as well, following the most exciting Tour de France for years. On last Thursdays epic stage which climbed to over 2300 meters three times and finished at over 2600 meters, Andy Schleck rode away from the main group 60kms from the finish. Epic attacks of this sort have not been seen in the Tour for decades. Riding alone is hard, there is no one to shelter behind so there is only one person pushing the wind out of the way, sharing the work is faster and easier.
For 50kms over one massive climb and half way up the final climb Andy gained time on his rivals. All of whom were looking at each other, waiting to see who would blink first, who would take up the responsibility and, effectively, help everyone else up the mountain. All had differing motives for chasing or not chasing and so a game of bike based poker continued.
Finally with 10k left to the summit finish Cadel Evans blinked and started to charge up the mountain, dragging all of the other contenders with him. Andy’s four minute cushion began to shrink. Was Andy the visionary with a great strategy to win the Tour de France, or was he deluding himself to think he could hold off the best cyclists in the world over some of the toughest climbs ever raced?
As it turned out he was the visionary. With courage, tenacity and some great followers he rode himself into a Tour winning position. Chapeau, as the French say.
If we believe in something or we want something, sometimes we just have to take our courage and go for it. Of course there is the risk both of success and disaster, but sometimes either is better than the status quo.
In conclusion – go for what you believe in and take good care of your first follower, equally, if you have the opportunity to turn a lone nut into a leader doing something you believe in – take it.
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