So, what does it take to be a pioneer? Well, firstly a thick skin. You are going to be the person who irritates and frustrates most of the people you are working with because you want to change things.
You ask the awkward questions - you are, in most people’s eyes, nothing but a bloody nuisance
You ask the awkward questions, you expect people to be creative not just efficient and to want to do the right thing, not just for themselves but for the common good. You are, in most people’s eyes, nothing but a bloody nuisance.
Secondly, you are visionary, so you need to be able to express that vision to others so that they too can see what you can. It means painting pictures with words, being an emotionally-based communicator and using that to take people with you.
Thirdly, you are adept at mobilising resources towards your priority goals. If not, then you’re just a person who had some good ideas that could never be judged in reality because you were never able to make them happen.
That is quite a lot to ask of someone and that’s why pioneers are pretty thin on the ground. They are special. Because what they want most of all is to accomplish something of significance.
Not only do they want it but they commit everything they have to achieving it - even if that means leaving a company to start their own thing.
Pioneer versus the manager
And pioneers aren’t just visionaries, they are also leaders; they have an ability to enrol others into helping them to achieve something significant, too.
Pioneers aren't just visionaries; they can already see a new era on the horizon
It’s why managers and pioneers clash. Managers are all about keeping things efficient, keeping on going the way things are currently going, some are happy to keep working within an old era long after it has passed.
But the pioneer can already see a new era on the horizon. They won’t want to predict the future as much as influence it. By acknowledging that there are many potential plausible scenarios, and rehearsing these constantly, they can start to ready the organisation for what the best case scenario will be and meet the future in a more prepared, enthusiastic and opportunistic way.
The art of the long view
And let’s not underestimate how difficult that is to do these days. During austerity almost no company wanted to dedicate resources to thinking about long-term futures, or planning for 10-15 years ahead. It has become fashionable to say that "you can’t plan anything" because everything is changing so fast and there’s always another Uber round the corner (which there literally is, of course).
But that is sheer laziness. You can plan - you can plan for many futures, and indeed you will have your own Kodak-moment if you don’t. There are strong indications that all this is now changing as big brands are re-empoying 'the Art of the Long View' but it takes the pioneer inside those organisations to motivate people to do what they don’t want to do, in order to achieve what they do want.
The long lasting impression
How many bosses gave you a reason to get out of bed in the morning? Not that many, I bet
So, look around you. How many pioneers can you see? How many have you worked for, observed in action, or changed the fortunes of the brand you work for?
How many really significantly changed what you were aiming for in your job or in life, or gave you a reason to get out of bed in the morning? Not that many, I bet.
But I also bet that the ones you can think of, made a lasting impression. And that’s why we should honour and applaud them.