Those who dream without limits, start with questions like “what if?” or “why?” and take a step forward believing “why not me?”. What if there was a better, easier, bigger, faster way? Why can’t we live on another planet? From the moon shot, to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and now Elon Musk as he is nearing his goal to colonize Mars, the audacity of big dreams begins with open-ended questions.
The NASA space program and the Kennedy mission demonstrated that great feats come from extraordinary dreams. Rallying a nation around something that was the stuff of science fiction excited imagination and energized people to do what was needed, from building rockets to sweeping the floors. But of course, most businesses do not have the entire financial might of the US government behind them when they start out.
In 2001, a thirty-year-old Elon Musk asked privately, “what if we could colonize Mars?” and by 2007 he was stating it publicly. Within a few years, SpaceX was created, and the path was set. Today, Musk believes this will be a reality in 2026. Doubt him at your peril. Innovations and evolution have occurred along the way to realize the dream. For example, the development of a reusable rocket enabled huge financial and technical advantages, allowing multiple launches and easier commercialization of space travel. This created massive cost reduction, and a revenue producing mechanism carrying commercial payloads, to keep the program moving forward. Other advancements in solar energy, battery storage, tunnel boring technology, and electric vehicles across all his companies were either borne out of the big vision, or supported it. Along the way, the impact of Musk’s big thinking has attracted naysayers, inspired competition, invention, and inspired cultural change.
When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997, he put the focus squarely on an ideal. That was “to build an enduring company that prioritized people”. Given the excess of the late nineties and rising stock market bubble, the focus on people-not-profit was aspirational. In the following decades, Apple would make user enjoyment and design the focus while they delivered some of the biggest evolutions in modern consumer electronic history. They literally changed industries from computer chip improvements by suppliers and operating systems, to hardware design and industry disruptions including music and cameras.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen had the vision, after founding Microsoft in 1975, to “put a personal computer on every desk and in every home” and they succeeded. Had they really understood the acceleration of their goal, they might have said “to put a computer in every pocket”. Microsoft along with its competitors and suppliers ensured it. By creating the simple software that interfaced with average human and business users, computers quickly became ubiquitous. In time, size was reduced, and capability was vastly improved. The computational power of technology that once occupied entire floors in buildings now rests in the palm of our hand.
To realize big dreams it takes more than the ability to dream, it is a hallmark of above average IQ. A high intelligence is an advantage, but not a prerequisite, when bringing a grand idea to fruition. The genius of big dreams that shape the world is that the dreamers see things differently than others. They see the future in terms of possibility and have the skill of critical thinking to deconstruct them.