The fear and draw of a great vision

I’m watching the Daily Show from Wednesday where they discuss Obama’s State of the Union address, and in particular his “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment” analogy.

And they joke about his visions. As opposed to Kennedy’s let’s put a man on the moon and get him back safely before this decade is over, Obama’s vision is (not just, but also), as Jon Stewart puts it, that in 25 years 80% of us should live near somewhat faster trains.

It made me thinking that most of us actually want big, inspiring visions (that we can believe in, not those that are forced upon us as a way of extracting slave labor).

But most of us are also terribly afraid of staking out a vision that’s too big. What if we fail? That would be embarrassing. Make us look stupid, because we even for a second believed it was possible. Better to play it safe and make the vision smaller.

That may logically seem to make it more obtainable, but at the same time it also loses all its power to motivate, and then it ends up being even less obtainable than the bigger vision.

Shoot for the stars and you might miss and hit the moon, as the saying goes.

Also reminds me of Larry Page’s commencement address from two years ago, where he says:

I think it is often easier to make progress on mega-ambitious dreams. I know that sounds completely nuts. But, since no one else is crazy enough to do it, you have little competition. There are so few people this crazy that I feel like I know them all by first name. They all travel as if they are pack dogs and stick to each other like glue. The best people want to work the big challenges. That is what happened with Google. Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. How can that not get you excited? But we almost didn’t start Google because my co-founder Sergey and I were too worried about dropping out of our Ph.D. program. You are probably on the right track if you feel like a sidewalk worm during a rainstorm! That is about how we felt after we maxed out three credit cards buying hard disks off the back of a truck. That was the first hardware for Google. Parents and friends: more credit cards always help. What is the one sentence summary of how you change the world? Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting!

Mega-ambitious dreams. Uncomfortably exciting.

Words to live by.

But it takes much more courage than you’d think it does.