What's Half A Vision?

Have you ever thought to yourself: “I’m not a visionary. I’d be happy to have one good idea.” Well, visions are merely one kind of idea, the kind that sees how something could be in the future.  The future could be tomorrow or years from now.  The idea is as broad as you permit your peripheral vision to spread and as far as you imbibe your imagination.  Your visionary idea can change the whole world, affecting the lives of every person living now and in the future (that’s what Ken Keverian told me lured him to IBM), or merely a small segment in a given niche (e.g., the vision of Eli and Mark Schulman for Eli’s Cheesecake). I interviewed bothKeverian and Schulman for my new book, Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born.

So when and why do visions occur?  They are not flittering like butterflies waiting to be snagged by minds’ nets.  Nor are they concepts that fall unheard in empty conceptual forests.  They are, instead, perceived solutions to problems or needs.  Visions are the keys for opening doors to opportunities and for barring doors to challenges.

There is a saying in the start-up financing community, that a particular investment opportunity is not investment-worthy, because it is “a solution looking for a problem.”  That implies that the problem must already exist.  Well, it must exist to be investment-worthy for those who measure internal rate of return (IRR), a measure that considers both the amount and the time of return.  Those with longer IRR tolerance can abide by time’s risks.  So one who can afford (i.e. has the backing for) prolonged projects can succeed by creating a solution for a yet-to-exist or even a yet-to-be determined problem or need.  That’s entirely possible but quite remote.

There are, of course, different kinds of business visions, irrespective of time considerations.  There are tangible ideas, often referred to as products, and intangible ideas e.g., systems or processes.  In all those cases they can be mental creatures, not yet specifically applied or modeled (and in that case, interestingly, not patentable).  They also can be notions about business models, which on and off over the past 150 years have been patentable but presently seem not to be (a result of “judicial legislation”).

Patent experts will tell you: “you cannot patent a mere idea; it must have been applied.”  Thus it follows that you can’t patent a mere vision, no matter how unique or valuable.  So the best and most valuable idea or vision with nothing more cannot be patented.

To be patentable, an applied idea or vision requires one additional attribute: it must be novel and unique.  A business vision can exist and prove quite valuable, even when it lacks novelty, even though it merely copies an existing concept.  (See my blog, “Eyes on Your Own Paper” about visionaries who have copied and used others’ ideas that have proven valuable.  Also, read Visionarie$ Are Made Not Born for the complete stories of these visionaries.)

Have you ever had a business vision? I’m not sure whether you have, but I’m quite certain that you’ve had half a business vision: seeing a problem, a need to do something better, easier or less expensively. The other half is a solution. Good news: now you know you have only half way to go. Can you think of what might be a good second half (the solution) to the problem or need you observed?