“Without vision, there is no hope” – George Washington Carver
So the wife and I just finished watching the first season of Mindhunter on Netflix. For those of you who aren’t familiar (or don’t care to watch shows featuring the exploits of serial killers. It’s okay, guys, I get it…) it’s about how the FBI first started doing psychological profiling of murderers in the late 70’s. I assume most of us have seen at least one episode of Criminal Minds, which is Hollywood-doctored FBI profiling through and through. I’m sure plenty of Mindhunter is Hollywood-doctored, too, but that’s besides the point. Imagine a time in the FBI where there was no profiling of sociopaths. They could profile the regular criminals, sure. But when it came to tacking down the nutcase killers, they were up the creek. They couldn’t apply their regular logic to these guys, and the Bureau chalks it up to the fact that these guys are a freak of nature, beyond logic altogether. Along comes this young agent, Holden Ford (fictional name, based on real-life John E. Douglas), and he’s thinking “There’s got to be a way to profile this kind of killer.” His idea is that the FBI could use psychology to understand what would eventually be called serial killers, and that there had to be a kind of logic behind their behavior, however twisted that logic may be. To discover that, however, would require studying and interviewing and talking to the psycho killers that the US already had behind bars. Nobody had done that before, especially not from the perspective of the Justice system.
So Agent Ford walks into his boss’ office and says “Hey, Boss, check out this great idea I’ve got.” And FBI Boss, like all good bosses, says “Wow, what a great idea! You’re a forward thinking individual and you going to lead us into a new era of criminal investigation!”
Man, I love bosses. Always such encouraging and broad-minded individuals.
No, he didn’t say that at all, actually. His response was more along the lines of “You’re out of your mind if you think we should be talking to those animals. Psychology is for hippie college students, this is the FBI. We’re professionals. We don’t do that.”
Here’s why I enjoyed this show: Holden Ford had a vision. He could see something that nobody else could, and he kept after it. He broke protocol, he got outside the box and did risky stuff that easily could’ve got him fired. Even his colleagues, the ones that were working directly with him and could see the effectiveness of the method, would put up a fight and tell him he needed to dial back, play by the rules, stick to the book. Everyone around him wanted to do things the way they’d always been done, and kept trying to get him to do the same. But Holden didn’t care how things had been done, he only cared about what worked. And every time he got it right, he would get a little more confident, push a little harder – his vision became a little clearer.
The question this raised for me was this: Do I have a vision? And even further: If I do, how far would I be willing to go for it?
I think a lot of us, including myself, have a tendency to listen to those bleating voices that say, “Play it safe. Change is bad. This is the way we’ve always done things.” There’s that mentality in us that doesn’t want to leave the wooly warmth of the herd, and the “Don’t.” voices can easily drown out the few that say “Do.” But last time I checked, might doesn’t make right, and such a democratic way of thinking isn’t always conducive to positive change. Kinda goes back to that old thing about “if everybody else jumped off a bridge…”
Personally, I don’t see being visionary as so much a binary thing but as more of a spectrum. It’s not about if you are or not, it’s about how much you are. Maybe not everybody is cut out to be a revolutionary, but I would argue that anybody can conclude there’s a better way of doing business than the one you’re stuck doing day in and day out. So if you can see that, you’ve already got a piece of it.
The other piece of the puzzle is making the change happen. I’m sure that plenty of us have thought “There’s got to be a better way!”, but how do you begin to buck the status quo and start swimming against the current? For this part, I think you’ve got to be ready to stomach going it alone, to be the only one who thinks the way you do. You’ve got to really be convinced that you’re doing the right thing, because everybody is most likely going to tell you that you’re not. If that thought is unbearable to you, as if you couldn’t imagine not fitting in, then my question is how right do you really think you are?
Now you might say, “But Preston, what if I am wrong? What if I’m just deluded or something?”
Fair enough, but wouldn’t it be so much worse to be right and not act on your vision? Let’s say your vision does turn out to be a no-go. What happens? At some point, it’s going to become obvious that what would work in your head won’t work in reality because of XYZ detail that you didn’t initially consider. Was it all just a waste? I don’t believe so, because you still learned something.
“Yeah, Preston, I learned not to try, because I tried and it didn’t change anything.”
No, the lesson here is that you learned more about what doesn’t work. Knowing what doesn’t work puts you at least one step closer than you were before to knowing what does work. See, even if you fail, the original problem is still there for the undertaking. That idea of “There’s got to be a better way” is still valid, and now you’re armed with more experience, more information, more wisdom to approach that problem with. Mistakes only equate to failure if you allow them to, and the more you make the more you know. Don’t waste your mistakes.
Now, I say all this to you, dear reader, mostly because I need to hear it myself. I won’t pretend I’ve got this all nailed down and execute it perfectly every time. I don’t. But I think drawing it out like this helps nudge that vision closer to being in focus.
Every vision needs a source. What’s yours?