08/03/2010 03:16 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

You're More Clueless Than You Think: Becoming a Visionary in 5 Easy Steps

Insulting audiences with the opening line of a speech is a great way for a speaker to grab their listeners' attention. I'm friends with a much sought-after dinner speaker, for instance, who gets big bucks for appearances where he starts with "You are all hopelessly clueless."

Fascinated by this speaker's success--not to mention his healthy fees--I once asked several members of his audience why they enjoyed the insults so much. The answer was always more or less the same: "Well, it's not really me he's dissing, but the losers sitting next to me." No one, it seems, thinks of themselves as clueless, but everyone around them falls short in the "clued-in" department.

I've often wondered what would happen if my friend took his opening insult one step further, and said, "I know you all believe what I just said doesn't apply to each of you personally, but it does. You," he'd say pointing at a haplesslady in the front row, "and you and you and you," indicating others in the audience, "are mind-numbingly clueless."

Well, this blog gives me a chance to find out. You, dear reader, yes you --and not some literary abstraction of all readers--but you who are sitting there right now reading these words with growing alarm and annoyance, are soooooo clueless!


Because your brain runs ancient scripts that hide important "clues" about the world from you. In previous blogs in this series I've shown that your brain--automatically, and without your awareness or permission-- filters out information that

  • It doesn't expect
  • Doesn't want
  • Isn't focusing on in the moment
  • Is about events beyond the immediate future

As if this theft of vital information weren't bad enough, your brain not only makes you clueless, but makes you clueless to the fact that you're clueless. It covers its tracks so effectively that you need brain experts-- such as me-- to clue you in to your cluelessness.

Let's get down to business illustrating how you--yes YOU--are a victim of just one of your brain's larcenies: robbing you of awareness of distant events that may one day loom large in your life.

The ten questions below will establish your VQ (Visionary Quotient) for predicting the future. Simply mark down whether each statement is true or false, then check the correct answers. Your VQ is the number of correct answers divided by 10 (the number of questions).

I dare you to take the test, especially if you haven't read Long Fuse Big Bang, which has all the answers.

1) Predicting the future is impossible

2) Devoting time to the far future improves results in the near future

3) Identifying big wins in much harder than finding quick wins

4) Basic human nature-- such as people's resistance to change --is the biggest single obstacle to progress

5) Appealing to people's emotions is more effective at selling your vision of the future than appealing to people's logic

6) Successful visionaries place big bets on a single vision rather than many small bets on multiple alternative futures

7) The biggest obstacles to progress are often factors beyond our control, such as limited budgets, bureaucratic inertia and turf wars

8) The best way to win big with a new product is to ignore what customers say they want

9) Sitting on a big idea--as opposed to acting on it immediately--can be the best way to insure the idea bears fruit

10) The best way to predict the future is to invent it


1) False. Phenomena such as Moore's Law, (computers double performance at the same price every 18 months) allow accurate predictions based upon technology as far as 10 years into the future

2) True. Imagining the far future helps you discover near term opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise thought of. Relaxing assumptions about what is possible lets you stumble upon "impossible" opportunities that are, in fact, very possible

3) False. It takes no more effort to surface big, game changing opportunities than to identify small, near term wins. All that's needed to spot big wins is to use simple tools such as "Blind spot" analysis--which uncover big opportunities hiding in plain sight-- in the course of your normal way of doing business.

4) False. Major advances only occur when visionaries harness, vs. fight, human nature. For example, Jean Monnet slowly built the European Union by by cleverly appealing to tribal instincts of Europeans, persuading them to focus their "us vs. them" attitudes on non-Europeans instead of on intra European rivalries

5) True. People make decisions on emotion, not logic. Passionate arguments, especially those bolstered by rich visual and audio presentations, can move even conservative audiences to action

6) False. Although you can occasionally luck out with a single big bet, the surest way to build a big future, is to "fail fast" with many small, quick experiments. World Class innovators such as Wal-Mart and Proctor and Gamble do this to manage constant change in their businesses and uncertainty about future consumer needs.

7) False. Our own unconscious beliefs, perceptions and attitudes (such as learned helplessness) and aversion to "inconvenient truths" are the biggest obstacles to change.

8) True. The most successful products--such as I Phone- are inspired by innovators who follow their passions, not designers who follow consumer fashion. Henry Ford said "If I'd asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse."

9) True. Big ideas are usually so disruptive that they are only accepted during crises. Waiting to pitch a radical idea until the right crisis comes along is often the best way to keep the idea from dying an early death.

10) True. The future is not cast in concrete, but is moldable. Apple, for example, decides what they want the future to be, then works hard to make that future real.

Dr. Eric Haseltine is a neuroscientist, inventor and the author of Long Fuse, BIG BANG: Achieving Long-Term Success Through Daily Victories