There is nothing like being named one of Marketing Week’s Vision 100 to prompt the question: Who, me?
Perhaps there are 99 genuine visionaries in our industry this year but I’m comfortable exempting myself. It’s no disrespect to the many talented and successful Vision 100 inductees to suggest that visionaries are very rare; that only one or two come along in a generation; that it takes a lifetime to judge success.
There’s no way to soft-soap what a visionary actually is: someone who believes things that others do not. They see a reality other people do not see. That’s what makes them tricky. You are not a visionary if you are the second person to believe something, or if you execute someone else’s ideas incredibly well. Those are superb skills, but vision is something else.
A visionary is someone who believes in a future that other people are not prepared to imagine. And that’s the easy part. The hard part is continuing to act on those beliefs until you persuade the rest of the world that you are right. The difficult part is being able to change opinions and create a movement. The hard part is what separates business leaders from the people who get shunted off the first round of Dragons’ Den.
It is difficult to conceive of the restlessness that comes from having a perpetually different world view. But, when visionaries act, being around them can be a great place to learn.
My former boss, Richard Desmond, was a good example of this. He usually had about a hundred new ideas by lunchtime and was forever demanding “why not?” if someone dared to suggest that something might not be, er, possible (or reasonable, or sensible).
This challenger mindset allowed Desmond to enter industries like newspapers, celebrity magazines, public service broadcasting and lotteries, even though he had no track record in those sectors. Out went the industry playbook. In came a forensic analysis of product and cost and endless ‘why nots’. Each time the incumbents predicted that he would be out of his depth, he proved them wrong.
Similarly at The Lad Bible Group there is no playbook to consult. The CEO Solly Solomou’s vision is to reach the 2.5 billion people who have smartphones and apps, who check social media multiple times a day. They have grown up sharing their world view with friends and influencers, creating bonds of trust and commonality with large groups of people, many of whom they have never met. They care about the world they live in and they care about each other, regardless of the distances between.
We know that the people who saw our content in India’s Maharashtra province last month have different political, ideological and religious beliefs from those in Karachi in Southern Pakistan. We know that people in New York have completely different expectations of gender tolerance, employment and freedom than those in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia or São Paulo in Brazil. That much everyone knows.
But until now we didn’t know that young people in New York, Riyadh, Karachi, São Paulo and Mumbai shared the same humour as people in Barnsley, Glasgow and London, or could be moved by the same empathy. We didn’t know that they could laugh at the same jokes or be inspired by the same stories. We didn’t know they could share a common world view.
Knowing this makes a difference to how I see the world. Reading it in the millions of emotional and behavioural interactions we measure every day has changed my perceptions. However complex and fractured the world appears today, the evidence is that we have more unity than ever before.
So the truth is, while I have no claim to be a visionary, I do have a vision. My vision is that people who share beliefs and values will transcend geopolitical divides. My vision is that mobile and social connectedness will shape new global movements. My belief is that young people will create global communities united by shared values, not divided by political history.
Despite how dangerous the world sometimes feels I have a huge sense of optimism about the future. Not, dear reader, because I am a visionary, but because I view it everyday in our data, where it is plain to see.
Mimi Turner will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.