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What's in a Visionary?

What does it mean to be a visionary? I’ve been rolling the term around in my head a bit as HT profiles its 2014 Hotel Visionary Award winners. Numerous books and bloggers assign a laundry list of qualities. Visionaries possess leadership, conviction, preparedness, boldness, skepticism and perspective, they say. I prefer a simple definition. Visionaries live at the intersection of imagination — the faculty of forming new ideas — and wisdom — the realm of experience. Imagination without wisdom is the jurisdiction of the dreamer; wisdom without imagination lacks the catalyst for change.

The discipline of technology, bridging possibility and practicality, lends itself well to visionaries. Names like Jobs, Zuckerburg, Gates and Dell have household status. But for all of its potential, technology — particularly when operating in the daily grind of supporting a business — can also be hindered by the realities of creating consistent, reliable infrastructures. Reality, for technology, can lead to risk aversion. This is where technology visionaries stand apart, leveraging their wisdom while forming new ideas.

This year’s Hotel Visionary Award winning companies are prime examples of what it means to be a technology visionary at a time when IT teams are attempting to shift from business support to business leadership. In each of the winning companies, technologists coupled imagination with technical wisdom and have stepped out of IT silos to lead their businesses. The ground-up reimaging of Red Lion’s website was spawned not by e-commerce, marketing or revenue mangers, but by a software developer who imagined a better way to drive bookings. At Mandarin Oriental, technology leaders developed an innovation lab to serve as a proving ground whereby they can demonstrate technology to key stakeholders from across the business, and ultimately wield influence. And at La Quinta, technologists reversed the typical responsive approach to system maintenance and performance — instead they are now able to predict, identify and triage problems before they arise.

These visionaries have harnessed the imaginative power of “what if” and coupled it with their invaluable IT wisdom. These IT teams are leading their businesses to a better future.

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