How to be a visionary
by Josh Bernoff
(My remarks on receiving the Visionary of the Year Award from SNCR, the Society for New Communications Research. As you can see, I bought "Charlene" with me, although she was feeling a bit "flat" last night.)
Let me start by saying I'm very sad that Charlene Li can't be here for real, since everything we did on Groundswell, we did together.
We were flabbergasted to get this honor and here's why: when we set out to write Groundswell, we explicity gave up on the idea of being visionary. Looking at the visionaries that came before us, notably the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto and Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, who wrote Naked Conversations, we decided early on that it would be tough to stake out a startling new area. Instead we decided to focus on how to make this concept of social technologies practical and useful. That's where the vision was needed.
So the first thing to learn about being a visionary is, don't start out trying to be a visionary.
The second thing I can share with you is that ignorance is vitally important. That's right, ignorance. I started out in 2007 with a very limited knowledge of the social world, and I think that naivete led me to see some things nobody else could see. Charlene was hardly naive about social technologies, but her own ideas needed to evolve to get us to the point where we could write a good book about it. The greatest advances in any field often come from people who are looking at it for the first time from a new perspective.
Third is testing your ideas. Everything in Groundswell was batted back and forth between the two of before it ever saw the light of day, and many of the ideas were tested as well on our blog and with clients. The weak ones were weeded out. The strong ones became stronger. That was essential to going further with these ideas.
Fourth is research. Everything in Groundswell is based on data we collected at Forrester, real world stories, and interactions with clients. Without that you're just makin' stuff up. It rings true because it is true.
Finally, vision doesn't mean a thing unless you can apply it. We've been all over the world talking about Groundswell, and people are using it. When I went to Wal-Mart and delivered it to their top management, they were creative in their reception of these ideas. That was encouraging. But the next day, they hosted some bloggers, and the bloggers have told me that they were still buzzing about the ideas and receptive to the new way of thinking. That means we changed minds in a place that matters. If you call that vision, I'll accept your judgment.