The Vision Pulls You
Why the most visionary people have the best learning partners
Not long after publishing the book Little Bets, I got to know and work with Beth Comstock, the highly respected and visionary Chief Marketing Officer of G.E.. Her curiosity was voracious. She asked a few similar questions each time we met: What trends are you seeing? What’s interesting to you these days? Comstock was looking for interesting patterns and insights across different industries, including from early adopters.
I got to understand her approach even more as a member of an innovation advisory board she created at G.E., a group of half a dozen thought partners. Comstock, I soon discovered, had an elaborate informal network of dozens of ‘learning partners’ — from Hollywood mavens like Brian Grazer to technologists like Reid Hoffman and Vivienne Ming to entrepreneurs and social innovators in the grassroots of Detroit and Louisville.
The vast system of inputs explained how she oversaw the initial development of Hulu, became a top CMO of her generation (who Steve Jobs twice tried to recruit), then rose to become the first female Vice Chair of G.E., overseeing innovation.
This is how visionary leaders get fuel: they have the best learning partners.
Comstock resembles Alice from Alice in Wonderland, an archetype shared by Jay Conger, a Professor of Leadership at Claremont McKenna, to illustrate the necessary blend of curiosity and purpose required for visionary leadership. “Serendipity was the starting point for her adventure,” Conger writes in Creative Action in Organizations. “Sensing the rabbit was unique, Alice was intent to discover more. So, intent on her adventure, she seemed oblivious to any risks. Quite remarkably, these very qualities of Alice’s are similar to those of creative and visionary leaders.”
Similarly, Steve Jobs focused on his “white rabbits,” including Apple and Pixar, then surrounded himself with the best learning partners. He had to: Jobs wasn’t a computer scientist; he had no training in hardware or industrial design; and, he wasn’t a professional manager.
It was on a walk with the legendary technologist Alan Kay that Jobs got pointed to a then little-known…