Using Vision to Drive Massive Change

Jan 24, 2019

By David Martin and Kathy Quinn

Elon Musk of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motor fame introduced the Tesla Model S, the first electric luxury sedan, earlier this year. He immediately drew fire from those quick to cite the car's perceived shortcomings: limited driving range on a single battery charge, lack of available supercharging stations, cold weather battery issues, and—even with a government tax credit—the car’s high purchase cost. All of this eerily mimicked the negative reaction Tesla experienced in 2006 when he introduced the Tesla Roadster, the first electric sports car.

However, like previous innovations, the criticism has less to do with flaws in Musk's concept and more to do with culturally shared blind spots—those commonly held fears and presumptions that leave us at best blind to the value of a new idea and, at worst, tending to reject it as frivolous or too costly.

When an idea stretches into the territory of exponential change where breakthroughs and transformations are possible, how something will be done is often not immediately clear. But that doesn't mean it can't be done or shouldn't be done.

Through our experience creating breakthrough outcomes with visionary leaders, we know that all big ideas start just like this: as a big dream with very little knowledge of “how” and a large number of doubters and detractors. Small wonder then that the person with big vision usually stands alone at first.

How can we influence the cultural mindset? It all begins with breaking rules. Breaking belief systems. And breaking habitual ways of thinking and doing.

Four decades ago, that’s just what Starbucks did.

From Sanka to Starbucks: Creating a Coffee Mindset Shift
When Starbucks first set out to sell premium coffee in their own stores, they had two jobs to do. First, they needed to teach people to think about coffee differently. They had to create a cultural shift so that consumers who were fine with drinking a 10-cent cup of instant Sanka at home or work wouldn’t think twice about spending five dollars and standing in line for a cup of coffee.

Second, they had to convince people to buy not just any premium coffee, like Seattle’s Best or Peet’s, but Starbucks coffee. Because they changed people's mindset so deeply, they succeeded. Today, the Starbucks mindset is a part of America—and the world.

Starbucks succeeded because its executives understood that the achievement of exponential growth requires a new vision. It requires that you and your team look at the world through a new reality.

Making the Leap: Three Obstacles to Creating Massive Change
In spite of the protesters and naysayers claiming that Tesla electric cars will never work on a practical or mass scale, that’s exactly what Musk is following Starbucks’s example. Rather than looking at his idea through their current, limited reality, Musk is asking people to view the world differently.

If C-Suite executives want to implement radical change within an organization, they too must bring about a shift in the basic corporate mindset. To begin, they will have to overcome three obstacles to change:

1. The idea appears to be beyond the realm of what people can conceive. Something that challenges old ways of thought is often branded too incredible, or too “sci fi” to succeed in the real world.

2. The idea is seen as too risky. Asking someone to stretch the mind to accept a new reality evokes fear, so safety concerns become a common objection.

3. The idea costs too much. Comparing something innovative to what is known and familiar often makes the new idea seem an expensive alternative to the status quo—reason enough to stop it in its tracks.

To overcome these objections, a leader must help the team open their minds to the big vision by asking them “if” questions. For example:

  • If this idea were possible, what would it require of us?
  • If we knew we couldn’t fail, what would we do to make this a reality?
  • If we do succeed, what would that mean?

Remaining open to the big vision invites ingenuity. If the organization’s leadership believes that realization of the vision is possible, human ingenuity often rises to the occasion to figure out how to transform the vision into reality. If leaders view the task as impossible, they won’t generate even a single “how.”

Orientation Determines Outcome
People insist that the “how” questions be answered before they’ll believe something is possible. But what really determines a successful outcome is orientation, not ability. Even though the “how” is still being developed, the Tesla Model S is making transformational inroads. Currently, it ranks as:
MotorTrend’s 2013 #1 Car of the Year
Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Car of the Year
Consumer Reports 2013 top scoring car
—The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it the highest safety rating of any vehicle ever tested.
—It is outselling Porsche, Buick, Cadillac and Volvo in California.

The Elon Musks of the world face once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to positively change how our world does business. Chances are good that there are opportunities just like these within your organization, too. The challenge for today’s leaders is to take deliberate, thoughtful steps to shift the corporate mindset so that inspiration can drive massive change. Without this shift, many great innovations will remain unrealized.

You can further explore the ideas in this article in the following AMA seminars:

About the Author(s)

David Martin and Kathy Quinn are experts in business growth execution, helping executives deliver on their best ideas by identifying and overcoming the hidden, invisible barriers that derail success. For more information, visit