How to Tell if You are About to Have an Impact – or if You are Just Tilting at Windmills

How to Tell if You are About to Have an Impact – or if You are Just Tilting at Windmills.


This week I walked into a restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa to meet with a visionary thinker I’d been talking to for the last year but had never met in person. It was one of those meetings where the topics covered ranged quickly from one broad topic to another. This particular visionary thinker, like so many of you reading this, is busy knitting together many opportunities that when (or if) they actually take are going to have a significant impact in Iowa, perhaps even the entire country and the world.


As we approached the table where he’d already staked out our territory, I saw a stack of well-read books (including a hardcover copy of Tribal Leadership)  a laminated chart with some of the smallest font possible to read, and a 4” thick notebook.


Despite having never met in person before, the first words out of my mouth were “I’m not sure if you’re Don Quixote or if there is something real here.” Pretty bold, potentially inflammatory, but an honest sharing of my interpretation of what was in front of us both.


We spent the next two hours in the conversation – and the question about tilting at windmills versus having an impact was never far from either of our minds. It made the conversation open, light, and transparent. That turned out to be powerful simply because there was nothing to hide.


In the end, the Visionary Thinker said he’d learned to do the following three key things in his life as a successful, serial entrepreneur:

  1. Be visionary – always have a big idea that you are working towards. That one big idea pulls in lots of smaller ideas, is strengthened by learning lots of interesting concepts, facts, frameworks from other disciplines, and drives towards a vision of what could be world changing.
  2. Create a structure – put something tangible in place to house your big vision. You need some kind of framework – call it a project, call it a pitch, call it the thing that is going to change the world. What matters is that you call it something – something that you can use to get others participating in and adding to your big vision.
  3. Take action – thinking about the vision isn’t enough, talking about isn’t enough, in the end, action must happen for your big vision to have an impact.


The fourth, bonus, recommendation came at the end of lunch. As I was getting up from the table to drive back to across the Mississippi, the Visionary Thinker shared one more reflection:

If you find yourself surrounded by a lot of visionary thinkers and no one is creating structures or taking action – get yourself to a new location. Too many visionary thinkers, thinking too many visionary things, and taking no actual action might be a great conversation. But, and this is a big one, if nothing gets done, nothing changes.


And, if you’re looking for a resource to get your vision to reality, check out our Tribal Rainmakers group.


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