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The Power of Vision: A Mighty Lever of Change

Joel A. Barker*

When I entered the futurist field 35 years ago, I started by asking myself the following question: Is it really worth the time and investment to think about the future? After decades of research and scholarship, the answer I have found is a resounding “Yes!”

Let me tell you two stories to illustrate why that is so important to envision the future.

When I was five years old I decided I wanted to be a spaceman. That was in 1949, when the term “astronaut” had not yet even been coined. But because of that clear vision of my future, all my behavior was focused on doing what was necessary to become a spaceman. I was a straight A student because of my vision. I studied the sciences and mathematics because of my vision. My vision of my future motivated me to perform at peak levels, even at a tender age.

When I was 12 years old, I took my first plane flight and became extremely ill. It turned out my inner ear was unusually sensitive to movement. That meant I could not be a pilot, which meant I couldn’t go into space. My vision of the future evaporated, and then so did my scholastic performance. Not until I was 28 years old did I regain a vision of my future when I discovered the occupation of futurist. In less than a year, I moved into the field and found my purpose in life. My vision of my future had returned. As a futurist, I have researched extensively the importance of vision. I found that people, organizations and nations with a positive vision dramatically outperform their counterparts without a vision. Just as I,first as a child and then as an adult, was energized by a vision of my future to do my best to achieve that vision, so, too, it is true that a vision can inspire all levels of human endeavor.

Here is the second story. In the mid-1990s, I was invited to Malaysia to lecture on the future. I arrived at the airport serving Kuala Lumpur around 2 a.m. and caught a cab into town. As I was chatting with the driver, we went past a very large neon sign on the side of a building made up of the numbers “2020”.

Not able to figure out exactly what this meant, I asked the cabbie if the sign was for a company that made eyeglasses. He laughed and said to me, “No, sir, that is the symbol for the 2020 Vision Malaysia has for its future.” He then went on to explain, in detail, what the 2020 Vision was all about. I found it fascinating that the leadership of Malaysia had created a vision of the nation’s future and then shared it so widely and successfully that even a cabbie was completely fluent with the details and the meaning of the vision. And he was excited about it!

In his landmark book, The Image of the Future, Dutch author Fred Polak illuminates how important powerful visions of the future have been for Western society. He goes so far as to suggest that, “The mightiest lever of a civilization may be its own image of its future.”

I think this is why the Challenge:Future competition is so important. It gives students from around the world a chance to think, not just about their own future, but about the world’s future and how they can influence it. Equally important, as it stimulates the students, the competition also engages businesses and organizations as sponsors, exposing them to new visionary ideas. And the educators and other individuals who participate in the judging of the ideas also gain broader perspectives about the future. In a sense, Challenge:Future helps infect the world with the goal of designing a better future for everyone. That is a grand and important vision to have – a vision that results in a group of people at all levels of society and all around the world who, through their participation, gain a profound experience as they think about and work at making the world a better place.


*Joel A. Barker is a futurist and author of Five Regions of the Future: Preparing Your Business for Tomorrow’s Technology Revolution. He is also a member of the C:F Advisory Board and C:F Finals Judge.

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Dan Croitoru

Dan Croitoru

A vision is very important as it shows you where you want to go. As Mr. Barker gave the example with Malaysia's vision, I found it so true because you can easily see nations and countries that have a vision, a goal, that know where they're heading and others that are just leaves in the wind. It all starts with a vision.

26th August, 2010 @ 4:42 PM CEST

Jatin Kataria

Jatin Kataria | Action team | CF Chapters

power is Goal and vision , one can feel when they believe and follow it... One should take time to brainstrom n think about vision n mission of life..

Nice to know about Malaysia... In mid 1990s Driver is aware of country's vision 2020... In actual life people dont know about the vision n mission ... very specifically in corporate situation is worst.. nobody think on that line...

Personally if you dont dream.. you will not think.. once you will not think , you will not act... Law of attraction will work if one know about what they want...

Thanks for sharing about power of vision.. you two sharing small but very deep in meaning.. You are right C:F is going really great and C:F is having legends like Mr Barker with them ... :)

8th October, 2010 @ 4:25 PM CEST

Yen Ching  Liew

Yen Ching Liew | Action team

I think almost everyone in Malaysia knows about the 2020 Vision, by Dr Tun Mahatir, our former prime minister :) We're very glad to have him as our country leader. Irregardless whether we achieved, you know that the entire nation feels differently when you know that the entire nation is heading together to a same direction, which leads toward a better future.
By the way, the life of Mr Barker is already a very inspiring one, thanks Mr Barker for sharing with us!!!

8th October, 2010 @ 5:54 PM CEST

Dharmesh Bhadja

Dharmesh Bhadja | Action team

one of the best essay with insights... thanks to Barker sir.

I feel very excited and now respect the futurist and his essential sharing.

28th October, 2010 @ 7:32 PM CEST

Kaushal Joshi

Kaushal Joshi | Action team

"Dream is not what you see when you sleep; Dream is something that doesn't make you sleep"

Dr. Kalam -former president of India & forever youth icon used to say that "Only vision will ignite the billion souls and Ignited soul is the most powerful resource on the earth, above the earth and under the earth"

I love to read this article again & again & Again...

12th March, 2011 @ 7:33 AM CEST



Its amazing to note that every well established project is a product of a well channeled vision

24th October, 2011 @ 2:08 PM CEST

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Right now, small groups of people are making the choices that will determine the direction of your future and our future.The irony is that many of these people don’t even realize what they are doing. And the value of their choices is measured, most often,only in short-term gains.They are ignoring the long-term implications of their decisions.

Statement from the book by Joel A. Barker and Scott w. Erickson,in “five regions of the future”

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