“I don’t want to feel this way anymore….”
I heard this phrase uttered countless times during my six years as a therapist, and often shared within the first few minutes of our opening session. It carried a mix of emotions for whomever said it. From deep sorrow and anxiety about the current reality to a hopeful anticipation of the future now that they had taken that first step towards change.
You may have uttered similar phrases. I know I have many times:
- I wish things were different…
- What if…
- It doesn’t have to be this way…
- We could…
- Wouldn’t it be nice…
These statements can be made about any context — your marriage, business, a renovation project, as a leader or a team member — and can be accompanied by a host of emotions: excitement, enthusiasm, and anticipation to worry, uncertainty, even fear. Whatever the context or emotions, two underlying perceptions are acknowledged by it:
- The current reality is not “perfect”
- There is a future that improves upon the current reality
Pay attention when you voice one of these statements. It is the beginnings of creativity and can be the spark for innovation and a powerful vision!
Note: Often the emotions of anxiety, worry, fear, etc. are stronger when you cannot yet see a future that improves upon the current reality.
Emotions of hope, excitement, and creativity are stronger when you either 1. See a way forward or 2. Feel competent/capable of creating a way forward.
A Bold Vision
Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to take my son to Disney World for the first time. Talk about a vision born from creativity! Wandering through Star Wars: Galaxies Edge, watching the 3D Muppet Show, blasting Emperor Zurg in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, or going underground in A Bug’s Life… it was fascinating to watch him be immersed in the experience. Honestly, I was as engaged as he was in every show, ride and park!
Disney World exists because Walt Disney made a bold “What if” statement based on his perception of a current reality and a preferred future. An article in the Smithsonian Magazine written in 2012 put it this way, “Disney believed that by the mid-1960s urban America was beyond repair and that the answer to our nation’s problems lie in starting from scratch.”
Mentioned in the CNBC documentary, “Walt: The Man Behind the Myth,” the vision for Disney World began as “Project X.” Instead of a theme park, Walt envisioned the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow—Epcot.” A planned utopian city that addressed the growing needs and challenges of urban America.
Following his death in 1966, the plans for Epcot were drastically reduced but it still stands as a testament to Walt’s acknowledgement that the current reality was not perfect, and a better future existed.
Turn Creativity Into Vision
Walt’s vision boldly addressed issues on a national scale. How can we create a vision of the future that addresses our current reality and draws us to a preferred future? What does it look like to change the world around you for the better?
When responding to my clients, I framed the following conversation with this statement:
“It is better to run towards something than away. When running away you don’t know where you will end up and if you ever have arrived.”
Creating a clear picture of what we are running towards is vitally important to any successful change. How do we move from “What if” or “I wish” to “Here is how.”
Walt phrased it this way, “First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. Finally, dare.” What can you do to think, dream, believe and dare?
Critical thinking is defined by Dictionary.com as, “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment,” and Merriam Webster as, “disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.”
There are many processes for critical thinking (from Stanford, Psychology Today, Harvard Business Review, and others). An underlying component of all is that critical thinking is based on information.
A practical question to help you “think” well when creating a vision:
What are your sources of “truth?”
Identifying credible sources of information around your topic is key to being critical, objective and rational in your thinking. Start by selecting five reliable and credible sources around your topic.
For example, our industry at WinShape Teams is in team and leadership development. When making decisions around improving the impact of our trainings, updating content, and identifying areas of continued skill development, I have a list of five sources to check my thinking:
- Psychological/Counseling theory and research. We are in the business of helping people shift their beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, which is at the heart of psychology and counseling.
- Industry leaders & like minded competitors. What, if anything, are industry leaders like Patrick Lencioni, Mark Miller, Jim Collins, Simon Sinek, etc., saying about the topic in question?
- Scripture. As a Christian with a Biblical worldview, I believe many timeless truths about Servant Leadership are found in scripture, along with good and healthy ways of relating to others.
- Evaluative research on the topic. What does the data say from our internal surveys, client interviews, training evaluations or relevant research from studies conducted by other organizations?
- Harvard Business Review. An ongoing cross-section of research and industry leaders that address emerging trends and timeless truths.
What sources of “truth” inform your thinking on the current reality and future opportunities?
Note: Intuition, “feeling,” and emotion are valid sources of information but not sole sources of information for decision-making. They need to be critically examined and considered with other sources of information as well.
Paint a picture of the preferred future. Many modern world changer’s dreams are captured in speeches. All of them paint a vivid picture of the challenges in current reality and pair that with a bright portrait of the desired future.
- “I have a dream” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- “Send a man to the moon and safely return him home by the end of the decade.” – President Kennedy
- “Four score and seven years ago…” – The Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln
- “Every once in a while, a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.” – Steve Jobs during the iPhone launch
Building upon the knowledge gained from “think,” add to it inspiration for what could be. As author and psychological researcher Dr. Brene Brown says, “The only unique contribution we will make to the world will be born from our creativity.”
A different approach has to be taken at this stage. In neurobiology, the left side of our brain is responsible for critical and logical thought. The right side of our brain is the source of creative thought and imagination.
Quite literally, in order to “dream” you need to “think” differently.
Tools for brainstorming sessions and creative thinking can easily be found with a quick Google search (try this one from Mind Tools or this one from Harvard Business Review). The key is to create a space where you only look at possibilities.
Suspend judgment or critical analysis of why it won’t work. A simple technique I use is, “Yes, and…” Rather than say, “No, because…” (that comes later), take any idea and accept it at face value, then build upon it.
- Clearly state the problem or challenge to be addressed.
- State a possible solution.
- Accept it by saying “Yes, and…”
- Then add another possible solution (no matter how clearly thought out, feasible or ridiculous)
- Accept it by saying “Yes! (enthusiastically) and…”
- Add another possible solution
The purpose is not to find the right or best idea, but to engage the left side of the brain to think and imagine all the future could hold and numerous possible solutions to your challenge.
Everyone is capable of both left and right brain thinking It is important to tap into both in order to “think” and “dream.” Again, Brene Brown says, “There is no such thing as creative and non-creative people, only people who use their creativity and those who don’t.”
At WinShape Teams we say, “Beliefs shape our attitudes. Our attitudes shape our behaviors.” Our values (or what we believe to be of value) shape what we think about and the decisions we make.
When a “what if…” “I wish…” or “if only…” idea has both critical thought and imaginative creativity applied to it, the result is usually a conviction or statement of determined will. “I believe this to be true…” A belief that shapes what and how we think and determines our actions and decisions.
As Roy Disney (Walt’s brother) said, “If you know your values (beliefs), decisions become easy.”
Note: If only imaginative creativity is applied, the idea is an intuitive hunch or energizing thought.
Note: If only critical thinking is applied, you are left with tried and tested methods, not innovation or new solutions.
Nobel Prize winning physicist and inventor of the hologram Dennis Gabor wrote in his 1963 book, “Inventing the Future,”
“We are still the masters of our fate. Rational thinking, even assisted by any conceivable electronic computers, cannot predict the future. All it can do is to map out the probability space as it appears at the present and which will be different tomorrow when one of the infinity of possible states will have materialized. Technological and social inventions are broadening this probability space all the time; it is now incomparably larger than it was before the industrial revolution—for good or for evil.
The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented. It was man’s ability to invent which has made human society what it is. The mental processes of inventions are still mysterious. They are rational but not logical, that is to say, not deductive.”
How true this is today! What is possible is ever expanding. However, true innovation requires a spark of creativity, information-driven critical thinking, and an individual daring enough to put them together to create a truly new and better future.
“What if…” “I wish…” “If only….” Or as my clients would say, “I don’t want this any more….”
Pay attention to these! They are statements that spark innovation and a new, better future.
Run these hopes through the rigor of critical and creative thinking. Boldly develop and create your convictions of what could be. And remember, at the end of the day,