Hall Pass - Permission Slip to Dream Big Dreams
“Why can’t we do this here?” was the question posed in a session of community and nonprofit leaders I was facilitating earlier this week. The questioner is someone that I’ve worked with for a couple of years now and consider a friend. So I was comfortable to gently suggest, “suppose we rephrase that question and instead consider how can we do this here?”
Was rephrasing the question just a matter of semantics in an attempt to use positive positioning and language? Not to me. Although it was a simple, subtle change, the philosophical reframing involved was enormous in its potential impact.
Research has proven that the questions we ask lead us in the direction we go and determine the answers we find.
If we begin a planning session or discussion with the question, “why can’t we ...” we’ve already launched our minds in the direction of what’s not possible. It’s amazing how quickly we can develop a seemingly endless list of obstacles and barriers when we begin with that as our focus.
However, rather than taking a deficit approach and looking at all of the reasons we can’t do something or why it won’t work, imagine how different both the process and outcomes could be if we adopted a mindset of possibility. In The Pollyanna Principles, Hildy Gottlieb states, “if it’s not physically impossible, it is possible.” That mindset opens the door to a world of possibilities we might not otherwise consider.
With possibility as our foundation and using powerful questions to launch our discussion, there’s no limit to what we might envision or accomplish. Here are a couple of powerful questions to stimulate thinking and discussion (I learned both of these from Hildy Gottlieb of Creating the Future last week in their Consultant Immersion Course --thanks Hildy!).
“As we consider the mission of our organization, what would 100% success look like in our community?”
“What is the highest potential outcome of this situation?”
Consider that where we begin a discussion or planning session has huge implications on where it ends. If we begin with a deficit mentality, we’ll most likely end up in a hole or a pit. The common starting point for many discussions is the present problem and limited resources to deal with it. Little wonder we don’t get far when we begin by asking, where can we go from here?
Imagine the difference when we begin by envisioning a better, brighter future on a distant horizon, and asking, how can we get there? Or what would need to happen for that to become our reality? This approach frees our minds and opens us up to a wider range of options. While we may not reach the ultimate destination we envisioned, we’ll get much closer to it adopting this approach.
Back to the meeting earlier this week. Why is it easier for so many to ask “why can’t we?” rather than “how can we?” As my friend put it, “it’s the way we’re trained” or how we’re conditioned. We’re frequently shot down by others who have also been shot down and discover it’s safer to avoid the risk and embarrassment of being shot down.
There’s a story told by Gary Hamel in Competing for the Future (1996) that illustrates this phenomenon. In the story, four monkeys are in a room with a bunch of bananas perched atop a pole in the middle of the room. Every time a monkey attempts to climb the pole it is doused with cold water. The monkeys gradually learn to resist the temptation of the bananas and no longer attempt the climb.
Shortly, a new monkey is substituted into the room. As it begins to climb the pole to reach the bananas, the other monkeys pull him down. After repeated attempts with the same result, he’s soon conditioned to accept that the bananas aren’t worth the effort.
Over time, the researchers kept swapping out one monkey at a time and each new monkey received the same treatment and gave up the climb. Eventually all the original monkeys were removed and although, none of the current crew of monkeys was ever hosed down, none of them would attempt the climb.
There’s some doubt over whether this experiment ever happened or not, but you’ve all seen some variation of these principles at play in the workplace.
If you’re one of those that struggles to break out of the constraints of limited thinking and somehow feels you need permission to dream big, well...here's your
You can skip that boring class where the culture of can’t plays on a continuous loop, beats you down, and leaves you empty. Consider this your permission slip to dream big and break free.
Remember, if it’s not impossible, it is possible.