It’s Time to Start Dreaming Again

Smiling Man with hand on chin

Reject a Mindset of Fear

Keywords: cultural resource management, importance of teamwork in the workplace, improve employee performance, organizational change management.

SUPPOSE we are to fully recover from this pandemic. In that case, we have to recover our ability to think big, imagine a positive future, and believe we have the right and the ability to direct our lives. Yet, it’s understandable why we’ve wanted to take a long nap from life. Consider what I recently heard:

“We thought Vietnam vets would come home without much of a problem,” said a CEO in a recent conversation. “We were wrong. Wartime stress had taken its toll. It wasn’t until years later we called it PTSD.” My client went on to say, “When it comes to COVID, we don’t know what to call the stress we are all feeling and its effects on society. Maybe in a few years, we’ll have a name for it.”

Each day we get the numbers of those who contracted and died from COVID-19. But, we don’t know the whole story. There are numerous unintended consequences caused by how we’ve responded to the pandemic. Overloaded suicide hotlines, a record-breaking number of 100 miles per hour speeding tickets, children losing necessary nutritional support through complimentary breakfast and lunch programs, increased depression and family violence, not to mention increased rates of unemployment, homelessness, and debt.

As Sam Walton, founder of Walmart, said, “People behave in the areas in which they are measured.

Erratic and unpredictable behavior is popping up in homes and Board rooms all across the country. In my life, family members and close friends have pulled away without explanation or discussion. I hear stories from clients that some employees are dangerously close to stress-related health issues—others report inappropriate outbursts. And two employees have ended their lives.
Neuroscience tells us we’ve been perceiving our lives through the lens of a “threat.” David Rock’s SCARF model goes deeper and explains we get negatively triggered by seeing situations as a threat to our need for Status, Control, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness.

At the root of all of this is fear. And when we let fear guide our behaviors and decisions, we stop dreaming.

Consider your chances of being overweight grow significantly if you surround yourself with overweight family and friends. Fear is the same way. One person’s fear infects another. The evidence of fear shows up in conversations by the words people use – we can’t, we shouldn’t, that’s not advisable, let’s wait, let’s not risk it. Fearful dialogue begets more of the same.

Susan Scott, the author of Fierce Conversations, put it this way: marriages, friends, teams, and organizations grow and die one conversation at a time. Many of our conversations are killing our most important relationships.

So, what are we to do?

Don’t allow fear to make your decisions. Feel the fear but don’t make decisions based on it. Jim Collins references what he calls  The Stockdale Paradox in his book “Good to Great” and says to “retain faith that we will prevail but confront the brutal facts.”

Practice innovative thinking. One innovative strategy has a team generate as many new ideas as possible. Another strategy involves taking a known issue and asking 4-7 “why is that?” questions until a deep understanding is achieved, uncovering new solutions. In both strategies, the rule is the more ideas, the better, and none are wrong.

Encourage the skeptics. In his January 2021 article Kenneth Kaufman says we should cultivate and maintain a culture where subordinates feel free to exercise initiative and speak their minds freely. The pressure to decide and act quickly forces rapid consensus and prevents contrasting points of view. In large organizations, the challenge is to keep the skeptics from becoming extinct. To become dreamers again, we should keep alive the careers of outliers and innovators, give people a platform for testing new ideas, and create new channels for them to share their questions and insights.

Develop a learning culture. Amy C. Edmondson, in her book “Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy,” says most organizations are structured for execution. They aren’t structured for learning. Leaders who take the time to reflect with their teams to find the root cause of failures and develop lasting solutions help create a learning culture. No one wanted COVID-19. But we should reflect on the last year and ask ourselves: what have we learned, how can we do better, what kind of a company should we be in the future?

Perhaps history will show us the way. Between 1347-1350, the Bubonic plague ravaged Europe. A few years later, Italy produced a culture of dreamers. These big thinkers collaborated, often with people from different disciplines; sculptors worked with architects, musicians with actors.

Let’s learn from what we fear but not let fear direct our lives. And maybe our pandemic will spawn a new renaissance of dreamers who transform our businesses and society.

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– Joseph Campbell