Dream a Little Dream (of Something Out of this World)

This week I welcome back my friend and colleague, Ross Ellis, to share the profound impact dreamers have on our world.  In this wonderfully written post, Ross reminds us all to embrace the dreamers around us and maybe even dare to dream ourselves.  Thanks Ross!

A few months ago, Al and I chatted about a paper SEI wrote, entitled The Upside of Disruption.  There’s also a podcast, Are You Evolutionary or Revolutionary?, which crystalizes one of the paper’s topics, namely whether innovation is more kaizen (incremental, continuous improvement) or kaikaku (radical change). Without giving away the punchline, both are clearly important to the health and growth of firms, whether they are in the asset management or manufacturing arenas, or anywhere. Indeed they are both also important for personal growth, although we tend to err on the kaizen side of things more often than not.

I’d venture to say that radical changes have a more widespread effect on people, firms, and society. And they’re often scary and not for the faint of heart. But, you know what else? They also require people to be visionaries — unafraid or even oblivious of what others may think.

Visionary? Or dreamer?

Visionaries are often viewed as focused, strong and charismatic, whereas dreamers are often characterized as wimpy, distracted and Berkeley circa 1968. Yet dreaming is exactly what is needed. Dreamers care about the future state. They may be less concerned abou170016-PB-Blog_05_15_17t fixing the minutiae of today’s reality than about making big changes tomorrow.

A few days ago I was talking to my son, who is in his first year at university (at an undisclosed Northern California location that happens to be in the news a lot nowadays), about the “doers” versus the “dreamers” and I had to catch myself assigning more value to one over the other. Both are necessary (especially if you exchange “dreamer” for “visionary.”) Was Steve Jobs just a dreamer or someone who totally transformed technology, the music industry, and even society? Was Jeff Bezos just a man who dreamed of having a discount online bookstore or did he envision what Amazon has become; an everything store? You decide — but I know what I think.

What dreams may come (true)

Speaking of books, as a kid I always liked to read, whether it was Enid Blyton’s children’s novels, the Hardy Boys or James Michener/Edward Rutherfurd -type historical novels. About the only thing I didn’t like was science fiction — it was too unbelievable to me, too fanciful. I mean, who could ever believe that one day there’d be a moon landing, motion-sensor doors or in-ear headphones? Well, ever hear of authors Jules Verne, HG Wells or Ray Bradbury?

As shown in the History of Books that Forecast the Future infographic, these authors had uncanny abilities to foresee the future and were able to paint amazingly accurate pictures of technologies that didn’t arrive until decades after their books’ publication. Just like Impressionist painters of the 19th century whose inspirations and resultant efforts were not widely accepted at the time, these writers were ridiculed or even scorned for what were called outlandish and unbelievable ideas.

Which brings me back to the topic: Seeds of innovations come from everywhere — any person, any industry, any race, any creed. Dreamers dream, but they need the support of others to allow them, to empower them, in order for great things to come from their ideas.

Play us out, Supertramp

On a final note, as a gratuitous gesture of my love of music, let’s end with what Supertramp said in their 1974 classic, Dreamer. Perhaps these British hippies were onto something:

If you could see something
You can see anything you want, boy
If I could be someone
You can be anyone, celebrate, boy
If I could do something
Well you can do something
If I could do anything
Well can you do something out of this world?

Let the dreamers dream. Let them do something out of this world. Who knows what outlandish, outrageous things will come to fruition? Maybe some, maybe none. But of one thing we can be assured — if you don’t allow the dreamers, you’ll never benefit from the dream.