Three Keys to Visionary Thinking

Charles Doolin was born in 1903.  He was the son of an engineer and was taught at an early age to be a tinkerer.  From his father, he learned practical engineering skills as well as what it takes to become an entrepreneur.  In addition to his engineering skills, Charles’ family also ran a confectionary where he worked.  As a young man he acquired three skills which would be vital to his success:  hands on engineering, entrepreneurial thinking, and customer service.  Charles Doolin became a visionary.

Borrowing $100 ($2,072 in 2022 value) from his mother, Charles bought a corn chip recipe, a potato ricer and 19 retail accounts from Gustavo Olguin who wanted to return to his native country of Mexico.  Being the tinkerer he was, Charles realized that the potato ricer would not be able to manufacture the chips in the volume he envisioned for his business.  He designed and built a hammer press to produce the chips.  He was able to get a patent on his press.

Within 15 years, Charles had five manufacturing plants and franchise operations nationwide.  The Frito Company, which he created, also expanded its product line into a variety of snack foods.  His corn chips were bought by the military for soldiers during World War II as a source of food which could be easily transported and had a long shelf life.  When the war ended, the military virtually gave Charles a supply of cheese which was no longer needed.  This was then used to develop a new product:  Cheetos.

Charles’ vision was not just confined to product.  He was also an innovator in marketing.  His innovations included dedicated sales routes, chip racks next to the checkout area, recipe suggestions for his products, store displays, and direct stocking of shelves by his salespeople.

Charles was a visionary in the treatment of his employees.  He set up stock purchase plans for employees and provided for generous pensions.  His reputation for employee fairness was rare for its time.

Another area of Charles’ vision was in product quality.  He financed studies of corn hybridization to achieve the best flavor of chips.  He was an innovator in frying oil.  He also encouraged crop rotation.

Charles saw the growing interest in vacation travel and became an early investor in Disneyland.  His interests also extended to the arts and world affairs.

When you think about what led to Charles Doolin’s success as a visionary, three skills he developed as a child were critical:  practical knowledge, entrepreneurial thinking, and customer service.  Visionaries see futures before others see them.  But without the three skills Charles developed as a child, their vision may never become a reality.

You need practical abilities to think through how your vision might actually work.  The translation from idea to practice is critical to taking a vision from a dream to a reality.

You need entrepreneurial thinking to understand how the practical can become something for everyone.  There are many practical ideas that never get accepted by the public because there was no plan for scaling them to a public arena.

Finally, customer service in its broadest context is understanding the needs of people before they may realize they have those needs.  Visionaries think of what may become a need, not what is currently needed.  This requires a deep understanding of people

These three skills are rare in individuals.  Think of your own case.  Where did you acquire these skills?

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“Vision without action is merely a dream.  Action without vision just passes the time.  Vision with action can change the world.” – Joel Barker (Futurist)

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