Eric Ries provides a great post on understanding the difference between innovative visionaries and delusional crazies. Some highlights for me were:
"We all know that great companies are headed by great visionaries, right? And don’t some people just have a natural talent for seeing the world the way it might be, and convincing the people around them to believe in it as if it was real?
This talent is called the 'reality distortion field'. It’s an essential attribute of great startup founders. The only problem is that it’s also an attribute of crazy people, sociopaths, and serial killers. The challenge, for people who want to work with and for startups, is learning to tell the difference. Are you following a visionary to a brilliant new future? Or a crazy person off a cliff?
Based on the successful visionaries I have had the opportunity to work with up close, I'd like to offer two suggestions for the role of visionary:
1. Identify an acute pain point that others don’t see.
It’s important to specify the vision as much as possible in terms of the problem we’re trying to solve, rather than a specific solution. (Or, to use Clay Christensen's formulation, of the "job" customers are hiring us to do.) Even though the visionary surely has some concrete ideas which are to be tried, he or she should always be asking, “would I rather solve the problem, or have this specific feature?”
2. Hold the team to high standards.
Despite Steve Jobs' incredible talents, he doesn’t personally design and ship every Apple product. It’s much more likely that his main function is to hold everyone who works for him to the same high standard. Once they’ve agreed to try and solve a dramatic problem, it’s the visionary’s job to hold each provisional result up to the light of that vision, and help the team remember that although trade-offs and compromises are always necessary – the real payoff is in solving that acute pain. This can help avoid the trap of the false negative: even if the first few iterations don’t get it right, the vision inspires us to learn from our failures and keep trying."