Hijacking a Vision: How to Sabotage a Great Idea

February 1, 2002
In this issue:

SPECIAL: Response to Last Month’s Editorial

Newsbrief: U.S.: An “Unfinished” Nation?

February Editorial: Hijacking a Vision: How to Sabotage a Great Idea, by John Renesch

Newsbriefs: Tom Peters’ “True Confessions”
“Divine Right” of Capital

Next Month: Lead or Leave: A Call to Action for Everyone Who Works

SPECIAL: Response to January’s Editorial: More about “Frankenwork”

Last month’s article on “Frankenwork” prompted some exchanges which I’d like to expand upon. In the article, I quoted New York author Sally Helgesen who wrote “every aspect of our lives is now governed by measures that operate at a speed fundamentally out of sync with human nature. Cut free from the old cyclical rhythms that have always been part of the human experience, we recognize that something essential has been lost, although we cannot precisely name it.”

What happened? How has this condition been allowed to evolve?

It seems that we humans have been adapting to mechanical systems for so long that we’ve become quite adept at it. Before we invented machines, we had no choice but to live at a certain pace – Nature’s pace (the season’s, sunrise and sunset, etc.). The Industrial Age (and its cousin the Technological Age) has changed our lives much more drastically than we have realized. The changes were gradual but nonetheless significant. While we’ve become rapid learners, we have also adapted to the “nature” of mechanics. This is what has created the great “disconnect” between our Industrial Age lifestyles and what Helgesen calls “human nature.”

For example, before we invented telephones, we talked with each other less frequently and more completely. We were more present with the people we were talking with and cherished the time we had together. Then, with the phone, the technology became commonplace and started to make demands on us. So people would rush to answer the phone if it rang, even if they were in the middle of a highly-personal conversation with a friend. The telephone has trained us to respond to it!

These days, voicemail, pagers, email and other telecommunications technologies are still training us to serve them – like the person who answers their cell phone wherever they may be, even in the midst of an intimate lunch or an important meeting or a deep and emotionally-charged conversation with a person sitting in front of them.

Automobiles have done their share to acclimate us too. We have adjusted our lives to accommodate driving cars – steering, braking and driving within the confines of lane markers, at speed limits which we adhere to, and punching buttons on the radio.

Our appliances and mechanical conveniences which were intended to serve us and make life easier have, in many ways, become our masters. We have adapted to live and work within the confines of these devices. How many people say that they are “slaves to the clock”? We have also become slaves to the computer, and the automobile, and the television, and the stock ticker.

When I was a teenager, I loved cars and was an avid hot-rodder. I became so proficient at rebuilding an early Ford transmission that I could remove it from the car, replace the worn or broken parts, reassemble and install it blindfolded! Years later, I realized that I was more knowledgeable about the workings of one of my hot rods than I was about my own body! I had greater intimate knowledge about how a machine functioned than I did about how the human body did.

As an observer of the present lifestyles most of us “enjoy” – lifestyles which are “fundamentally out of sync with human nature” as Helgesen points out – I see so many people who relate better to their equipment than they do with each other. Machines are more predictable than people, so naturally they’re easier to anticipate. In many ways, they are less hassle than trying to relate to another human being. But relationships with one another are critical to the human experience. Developing greater intimacy with equipment than we do with each other is a sure path to becoming enslaved by our own inventions. Like “slaves to the clock” we will lose our essential nature and become the machines we created to serve us. We are in danger of losing our humanity – losing the dignity, mastery and grace of being complete human beings – and becoming the servants to things that tick, and hum, and beep at us.

Readers responses are always welcome.




U.S. Senator John McCain spoke about character in a speech last year which was subsequently adapted as an article in a recent Personal Excellence magazine; focusing on leadership, Senator McCain writes provocatively about his own country: “As blessed as we are, as empowered by liberty as we are, no nation complacent in its greatness can long sustain it. We are an unfinished nation.” Our country’s “unfinished-ness” supports John’s idea that we are really at an adolescent stage of development as a country, much as is most of humanity as a species (see Getting to a Better Future).


by John Renesch

A vision for something in the future is usually generated by a person, and sometimes several people together. A powerful vision is one which others can get behind, and support, and help bring into being. Entrepreneurs have visions – even when they think they don’t have one or believe that “having a vision” is too grandiose. Some simply say that they could see an opportunity and they acted on it. Well, that may not be the “vision thing” as many of us would call it but it nonetheless qualifies as one. Having a vision for a company, or a service or product, is essential to entrepreneurship, just like commitment and the ability to manifest it is essential.

Visionaries are usually very clear about what they see as possible, even when the idea seems absolutely insane to others. Most great entrepreneurs had crazy ideas – ideas for which they were criticized and even ridiculed. But they took a stand for their vision and, even though they may have faltered sometimes along the way, they returned to their commitment to the vision which fueled their will and tenacity, their ability to tolerate failures along the way.

I was recently reminded by Peter Roche, a partner in the consulting firm of London Perret Roche Group, LLC, how someone’s vision can be “hijacked” unless they are very clear and committed to manifesting it. As the visionary entrepreneur puts his or her vision out into the world, there may be people who criticize and belittle it. These people aren’t going to do anything to further the entrepreneur’s vision. There will be others who see the possibility, like the vision or the entrepreneur, and who sign on to help make it happen. The vision is in sync with them, they like the idea of being involved in working toward the vision, and they jump in as partners and allies with the entrepreneur.

But there is a third group – neither pro or con the vision. These are the people who may like the idea but have their own ideas about how the vision should look, or how it should be manifested. These are not bad people but they bring in their own agenda and can sabotage the entrepreneur’s original idea. Having their own idea about what the vision should be, these folks can be a major distraction for the entrepreneur and the enterprise. This form of “support with a catch” is much more limiting than when someone who chooses not to participate at all. The additional agenda causes there to be more internal focus – which is my own definition of “bureaucracy.” Slippage occurs and much-needed resources are bound up in struggling with the disparity between the “second agenda” person and everyone else who is aligned behind the entrepreneur’s vision.

In the nomenclature of the “new leadership” there’s a myth about “buy in” which some people take to mean that all points of view should be considered and any disagreement should be reconciled. Attempts to achieve this 100% agreement or total reconciliation can sometimes kill a new company. If someone can’t get behind the vision as stated at the start, they (and everyone else involved) are better off it they seek another enterprise to align with, or start their own.

Roche writes, “be extra sensitive to ‘buy in.’ Be really clear about what you want – then attract volunteers who want to forward that, who are excited about that, who own that like they invented it. Then the issue of “buy in” goes away.” He writes that some people “have a thrown tendency to ‘hijack’ the vision of the person they came to support and shape it to their own agenda. They should be encouraged to do their own thing – but somewhere else,” he writes.

The challenge for the entrepreneur is to be so clear about their vision so that it is less susceptible to becoming hijacked. He or she must provide leadership with certainty, clarity and power. Roche concludes, “When the founding leader creates a vacuum of leadership, enthusiastic volunteers step in with what they see or think is missing. However, they mostly insert ‘their agenda’ not the missing voice of the founding vision. The ‘missing voice,’ confronted by the ‘chatter’ of those trying to fill the void, is further stilled in an attempt to accommodate the differing views.”

In a sobering analogy to some of our national security issues since September 11, an entrepreneur’s vision is difficult to hijack if there are certain factors in place. The vision cannot be hijacked nor the core idea sabotaged if the vision is crystal clear and unquestioned passion for it exists – a must for the entrepreneur and matter of great importance for everyone around him or her. While there needs to be a willingness to hear differing ideas about strategy and implementation, the original vision is what attracted people in the first place.



Tom Peters confessed to making up a lot of what he wrote about in his first big book – In Search of Excellence, with Bob Waterman – which came out about twenty years ago; in a “coming clean” type of piece in the December 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine, the management guru revealed that he lied; for more see article at Fast Company.


John has given a hearty endorsement to a new book by Marjorie Kelly – The Divine Right of Capital; he’s written an editorial review for Amazon.com in which he states, “This book is the most important book of the last century if we want a sustainable future. It shines light on the darkest underpinnings of capitalism, showing us how the most dominant economic system in the world is destroying the very democratic ideals which we claim to champion.” For the entire review go to Amazon

About John Renesch

Better Future NEWS is prepared monthly by John Renesch, a San Francisco writer, futurist, and consultant/executive coach. John served as Editor-in-Chief of The New Leaders business newsletter from 1990 to 1997 and has created a dozen business anthologies on progressive business subjects, including consciousness, intuition and leadership. These books include New Traditions in Business, Learning Organizations and The New Bottom Line. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing.

John is also an international keynote SPEAKER, having addressed audiences in Tokyo, Seoul, London, Brussels, Budapest as well as many cities throughout the U.S. For a list of all the SERVICES John offers, go to Services.

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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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