In 1859, Edwin Drake tried to enlist well drillers for a project to drill for oil. They said, “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground and try and find oil? You’re crazy.”
In 1876, a Western Union internal memo declared: “This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
In 1899, Charles H. Duell resigned from his post as Commissioner of the US Patent Office because, he said, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."
In the 1920s, certain investors declined urgings to invest in radio. They said, "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"
In the 1950s, supposedly, the head of IBM refused a proposal to explore making copy machines. "I don't know what use any one could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn't be a feasible business by itself."
It’s fun to hold up these tales as great examples of failure of vision.
The point to make about vision is not, as the above examples might seem to imply, Dare to think Big.
After all, f you had said that the Ford Edsel, the Sony Betamax, or Apple’s Newton would never take off, you’d have been right. The dot.com bubble that burst in 2000, the housing market collapse that began in 2007, the big bank failures, and various other economic consequences of over-reaching are all negative consequences of thinking too big.
Sometimes we think too big, and sometimes we don’t think big enough. That’s life.
So when we think about vision, there’s a different angle to take. It’s not about knowing what will pan out and what won’t. It's not about daring to be bold versus being wise enough to be cautious. It’s about knowing who you are.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish,”says the Book of Proverbs.
As I mentioned last week, the next clause gives it a spin I wasn’t expecting.
“But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)We usually think of “vision” as meaning a big-picture goal for the future.” But here “vision” is the opposite of something called, “keeping the law” That’s the King James Version.
The New Revised Standard Version is:
“Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint. But happy are those that keep the law.”The New Living Translation is:
"When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful."The New International Version is:
“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint. But blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction."For “Proverbs,” what goes by the name of vision is also known as prophecy, divine guidance, revelation. It’s what makes us able to keep the law, which is to say, heed wisdom’s instruction.
To say it less metaphorically, I’d say “vision” is, indeed, about seeing. It’s about seeing who we truly are. When we don’t know who we are, we are undefined, and scattered. That’s how I read “casting off restraint,” “running wild.” It’s the dissolute, dissipated life of not being true to ourselves: jumping from persona to persona without the anchor of a core vision of who we are. That’s no kind of life. It is, indeed, to perish.
By contrast, to keep the law, as I read it, is to keep your own law: to be true to the vision of yourself. It is to heed wisdom’s instruction, recognizing that the best wisdom is in yourself.
It’s there, though we don’t always listen to it. Do we know who we are? Do we listen to our deepest selves?
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This is Part 1 of 5 of "Vocation: Who Are You?"
Next: Part 2: "Linji Speaks: Nothing To Do"