The other day I heard about a young man who gave up a promising career in corporate America to become… a professional gambler. (Yes, you read that right.) Top of his class in college, math whiz, highly regarded “quant” with a major U.S.-based corporation, married with young children. But he heeded the clarion call of Las Vegas. He joined 47 million workers who made the decision to quit their jobs to seek something better—to pursue their vision of what life could be.
This young professional might well be following his bliss, but the world needs more talent and vision deployed to bigger and greater challenges. In tumultuous times, we need new visions more than ever. History shows that while we sometimes are unkind to them, visionaries can point the way forward. Maybe it’s just me, but today’s crop of visionaries—with the exception of Bill Gates—almost singularly fails to inspire. Mark Zuckerberg wants us to escape the realities of a warring, pandemic-ravished, heating up planet by submerging ourselves in the metaverse. Elon Musk wants to colonize Mars. Where are the visionaries of our time who inspire us and take us to a higher plane of thought?
Like a lot of other people of my generation (I am a boomer), I came of age fascinated by the ideas and inventions of Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983), inventor of the geodesic dome. Fuller was especially prolific when it came to envisioning how things could be done differently, more efficiently and using fewer resources. After Ford Motor Co. hired Fuller to build one of his geodesic domes over its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., Fuller was suddenly a hot commodity. World Fairs and expositions everywhere went big for “Bucky domes.”
His Dymaxion vehicle could turn on a dime and caused traffic jams when introduced in 1933. His Dymaxion homes were billed as the wave of the future. Fuller envisioned flying cars and underwater communities that would be resupplied by submarines. Above it all, new-age communities envisioned by Bucky would float above the clouds like gigantic cruise ships in the sky.
Prolific ideator though he was, most of Fuller’s ideas never got off the ground. His most famous construct, the geodesic dome, would prove to be impractical. Almost 40 years after his death, it’s not his inventions but his embrace of potentiality and possibility that sets him apart. Fuller’s vision of the world and the humanistic values of one world endeared him to the Boomer Generation at a time when idealism and can-doism was sending kids into the Peace Corps—not gambling halls.
Depressed, jobless and with a family to support, Fuller considered suicide. Instead, he asked himself a series of questions: “What is my job on the planet?” “What is it that needs doing?” “What is it that I know about that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?”
Out of this period of study and self-examination, Fuller began to see that his calling was not confined to inventing things but rather to inspire inventive thinking in others. In mid-life he began to travel the world speaking to audiences about the future. In the 1960’s and ‘70s, Fuller became a beloved fixture on college campuses and around the world. His visions of the future inspired a generation.
Robert Tucker is president and founder of Innovation Resource Consulting Group based in Santa Barbara, Calif. He is an award-winning global futurist and keynote speaker with a client list that includes more than 200 of the Fortune 500 companies.