I just attended my friend Luke Melia’s wedding and came away moved by something he did. Smack dab in the middle of the ceremony, Luke read to us from a document that read like a diary entry—written some 50 years in the future. He spoke about his life with his wife Jeanhee, the richness and fullness of that half-century of living, learning and growing together. It was vivid and deeply moving.

Why? Because it was real.

The most critical skill of the successful networker is envisioning, the ability to create a vivid picture of something that hasn’t factually happened yet, and make it so vivid that it feels real.

Envisioning is vastly different from “goal-setting,” which deals in the logical. (Fix a definite point in the future, then deduce the concrete steps that will take you there.) What I’m talking about has nothing whatsoever to do with logic.

Nor does envisioning happen simply by creating a picture in your mind. If your dreams and aspirations are happening in your mind only, that’s not envisioning, that’s wishful thinking. (It’s like saying, “I’ll give it a try”—which as Yoda pointed out, really doesn’t cut it.)

Envisioning means making something up out of thin air—and making it real. By definition, you can’t do that within the confines of your skull. It needs to become sensory. Writing it (good). Making pictures of it (better). Speaking it (best).

My friend Scott Ohlgren calls this “future journaling,” and it’s the most powerful training exercise I’ve ever seen—when read out loud, as Luke did. The “100-name prospect list” is another example. The value of this famous exercise is not in the names themselves—it’s in the process of envisioning that you inevitably engage in as you face the blank page.

When I began my networking business, I made a wall chart of a 25-leader organization before I had any idea whose names would actually go in those 25 boxes. The chart, for me, was reality. Sure, it didn’t pay real money until the boxes were filled in with actual people. But it was real first; the people followed.

Growing a network is more agricultural than industrial. You plant, then only later on reap a harvest. There’s no on-off switch; it takes seasons, not moments. “Momentum” is thrilling, but it comes only from the patient waiting and powerful seed-planting of those willing to gaze out over an expanse of nothing-yet and call it already-something.

That’s what Luke did that so moved me. And that’s what you do when you build an organization. You build it first; then people come along to inhabit it. That is envisioning.

JOHN DAVID MANN is Editor in Chief of Networking Times.