Are you a dreamer or do you consider yourself a practical person? Do the two paths have to be separate or can imagination actually bring them together to accomplish great things?
Big questions for a little blog, but because I saw three dreams intersect last week, I was reminded of the power of imagination and its ability to change what the majority thinks is the inevitable course of progress. And why it takes the dreamers to seize business opportunities when conventional wisdom says they may be fools.
Let’s start with the littlest of the three dreams first – mine. From the day Cunard’s QE2 ocean liner launched in 1969, I wanted to travel on that ship. It was sleek and beautiful and radiated glamour, but my dream wasn’t very practical. For one thing, I was just a kid. For another, my family didn’t live in that socioeconomic bracket, by a long shot, and we were saving for my college years.
Then the Concorde supersonic plane took to the air – another stunningly beautiful machine that symbolized, to me, the excitement of seeing the world – and if you had the means, you could take that QE2 trip across the Atlantic and then return in the blink of an eye. That became my bigger dream, but again – just a kid who couldn’t afford it and wasn’t ever likely to.
Meanwhile, in England, a little boy named Stephen had a dream. When he was 7, he saw a TV program on the original Queen Elizabeth liner and decided that when he grew up, he would build a great ship like that. Two years later, just after she launched, he saw the QE2 and his passion was confirmed. Never mind that this was the beginning of the end for the ocean-going passenger ships; conventional wisdom in and outside the industry said no more would be built. Transatlantic jet travel was killing them.
Adults did their best to steer Stephen into another career as he grew older. He started university, in fact, studying chemistry before he returned to his true calling, naval architecture. He got his degree, he got a job designing cruise ships, he continued dreaming.
QE2 got older and creakier. Her sister ships, the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary, were long retired while the remaining great liners, like the SS France and SS United States, were also gone and not replaced. In 2003, the Concorde, after a fatal crash three years before, was discontinued.
But in 1997, a movie took hold in the public’s imagination and another dream was born for millions of fans. The movie was “Titanic.” Suddenly, strangely, there was a desire – and a market again -- for sea travel that promised a sense of adventure and romance.
And there was the adult Stephen Payne, by now a lead ship designer for Carnival Corp., which decided to acquire Cunard and build a new luxury liner, going out of its way to preserve the Cunard reputation and experience. They gave Payne $1 billion to realize his dream. And did he ever.
The Queen Mary 2, when it launched in 2004, was the world’s biggest passenger ship and a true ocean liner, with a proud, sharp prow capable of cutting through the rough waves of the North Atlantic, unlike the bulky floating hotels that are most cruise ships.
I was on that ship last week, and so was Stephen Payne, who gave a series of lectures during that week on the ocean on the history of Cunard and ocean liners, the design and building of QM2, and how his childhood dream came to be – despite the opposition he encountered from practical people who tried to make him follow a more sensible path in life.
We passed 40 nautical miles south of the Titanic’s resting place on the ocean floor. As we know from the many accounts of that ship’s tragedy, she was carrying the hopes and dreams of hundreds of people when she went down. That sense of history and continuity, noticeably shared by our fellow passengers on QM2, made the experience profound.
So I ask you: Are you a dreamer or a practical person? If the former, are you letting people divert you from your path? If the latter, are you missing opportunities because you’re letting conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) blind you to them? Or are you one of those very lucky people who can bring those paths together and make the dream reality?
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Find the week’s networking opportunities here.
And did you miss out on the Financial Executive of the Year event? Take a look here.