50 Lessons After 50:


Being a dream merchant

The only consistent difference that I can identify between humans and other so-called intellectually evolved species, is that humans can dream collectively.  I say only, but that singular ability to dream collectively and work cooperatively to realize a dream has reshaped our planet, is reshaping our solar system as we speak, and may someday mean we can reshape our galaxy.  The building you are in, the chair you are sitting on, the screen you are looking at are all someone’s dream that has been realized.  And the process leading to the realization of a collective dream is extremely consistent.

Collective dreams begin as dreams of individuals who see the world as it is and think the world should be better and that they know how to make it better.  Of course, a dream alone is just a dream and, in the end, has no more value than the value the individual places on that dream.  What separates a collective dream from just another dream is that the individual that dreams it has a plan that plausibly might be successful at realizing the dream, and, he or she, is sufficiently galvanic to enlist other in sharing the dream.  I once thought that if I had a dream that I wanted to collectivize, I would need a fool-proof plan to convince people to join me in the endeavor.  I was wrong. I have learned from the people who have followed me that most of them thought my dream would fail but felt that the dream was plausible enough to give it a try.  To a person, the people who have been with me for decades tell me that their plan was to hang out for five years or so.

I have always been a big dreamer and have never understood why someone would bother with a little dream, and I have learned that big dreams sell, and they provide the space for others to feel that they have contributed and realized dreams of their own under the penumbra of a big dream. In fact, when I founded Ionis Pharmaceuticals, I embarked on the biggest dream possible in our industry, which was the creation, advancement and validation of a new platform for drug discovery.  We began with $5.2 million and over the next thirty years were able to raise somewhere around $10 billion to realize the dream and to see that dream continue to advance and grow in value.

But big dreams require big plans. They demand the willingness to admit failure and if you hit a wall that you cannot work around or climb over.  They also demand preserving over many disappointments, many outright failures and all sorts of mistakes made by leaders tying to realize that dream. Above all then realization takes stamina and commitment.  It also takes the ability to take failures, acknowledge them and refresh the dream and plan to convince those who dream with you to stay the course.

I suppose the question one could ask is ‘Is it worth it?”.  I can only speak for myself.  I can’t imagine my life any better than it has been because I took the risk to pursue a big collective dream.  I have also learned that anything worth saying has been said better by a poet.  And what I have learned has been said poetically by one of our modern poets, Bruce Springsteen.  It’s actually a title of one of his songs: Dream Baby Dream.

by Dr. Stan Crooke

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