19 Seers: these oracles of the awesome are leading the way to a brighter future.


"VISION is the art of seeing things invisible," wrote the great satirist Jonathan Swift, known for nearly three centuries as the eagle-eyed author of Gulliver's Travels. And those words ring true to this day, though in fact, back in the 1700s when he penned them, a visionary was not the sort of person you hoped to meet for an ale at the local pub. No, be was the kind of fellow who conjured up demons and ghosts.

These days it takes more than a healthy imagination to earn the Visionary title. You need a vast store of know-how, too. It's not enough to see what others do hot; you have to have the might and wisdom to shepherd your vision into reality. Consider Steve Jobs, perhaps the premier visionary of our time. A prolific innovator, he had a knack for creating products before we knew we needed them. He led us to a world where cellphones snap pictures, play music, order our groceries, even monitor our vital signs. But he did not achieve all that until he had mastered the art of the sales pitch.

Does that mean Jobs' sanity was never called into question? No way. His own wife talks of "Steve's magical thinking." Indeed, her husband's logic was not always linear--or sound. (He once believed he could defeat pancreatic cancer with an all-fruit diet.) But in his unique way, Jobs made the world a better place. And so he felt compelled to champion the unconventional thinkers. "Here's to the crazy ones," he exclaimed in a famous Apple ad. "The ones who see things differently. ... They push the human race forward." No doubt he'd make room for a few of these guys at the genius bar.

Bill Gates: For nearly two decades, the man who founded Microsoft has been using his business acumen and personal fortune to tackle the world's biggest problems through philanthropy. When he learned not long ago that raw sewage poses a greater threat to the poor than measles, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined, he came up with a plan of action, issuing a challenge to reinvent the toilet. Eight universities took him up on it. Didn't matter that the current design had endured for 200 years, Gates soon had creative thinkers across the globe talking crap. When he announced the winning designs last August, researchers at Caltech took the top prize of $100,000. The team's water-efficient, solar-powered commode needs no treatment plant to convert waste into Fertilizer as well as hydrogen for use in producing energy.

Salman Khan: When he started posting tutorials on YouTube, the hedge fund analyst had no interest in reinventing the nation's education system. He was simply trying to help a 13-year-old cousin master algebra. But in the nine years since, millions of people--young and old--have embraced the genius of his bite-size lectures, tuning in time and again to receive one-on-one instruction in the intricacies of math and science. By harnessing the magic of digital technology--giving kids the chance to learn at their own pace, rewarding their budding problem-solving skills with badges, handing teachers the tools to monitor their progress--Khan Academy is literally turning around the classroom experience. Students digest instruction at home and do their homework at school, where teachers are on hand to answer their questions. Now that's just smart.

Eric Ries: He was not the first business executive to marvel at the startling...

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