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The stories we tell ourselves

Did you have a vision for yourself, or your business this time last year?

If so, how is it different now?

The Vision Thing

There are some wonderful vision statements:

  • Alzheimers Association: A world without Alzheimers Disease
  • Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
  • TED:Spread Ideas

On the other hand, there are many bad ones – visions that are really goals, or “feelgood” visions designed to look good. No use for guidance or inspiration.

A great vision is an effective audit document. It’s a test for every decision we take. Is what we’re doing moving us closer to the vision?

When times are good it’s easy to make excuses and to pretend that making more profit is moving us towards the vision, but it’s times like now that really test us. It’s easy to put our own interests before the achievement of the vision and in an economy and culture that puts profit and reward above all, difficult to avoid.

“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there”

Lewis Carroll

A vision is a hard taskmaster, particularly when you’re struggling to make payroll, the rent or the mortgage. Either we are committed to it, or we’re not. If we’re not then we’re only here for the money and will find ourselves going wherever necessary to find it. Sometimes, we just have to accept that for a while.

I think the most compelling question we might want to hold in mind is what we want to look like in 2030, when this is behind us. If we don’t pay attention to that, we may find ourselves, like Dicken’s Scrooge in in a “Christmas past” moment, engaging with a spirit of past intent, and it won’t be pleasant.

The Story Thing

The current times are challenging. For most of us, there’s a screaming desire to get back to “normal” and the rules, processes and power relationships we’re used to. Unfortunately, we increasingly realise that’s not going to happen.

There’s a real possibility that our company, and our current job if not defunct, is on the road to it. An organisation’s first priority is its own continued existence, and like us, is highly resistant to the idea of extinction. We only have to look at Charities, where the ultimate sign of success would be it’s own cessation. We don’t see that happening often.

For many of us, this is an unparalleled, if uncomfortable opportunity to change direction. To move away from mundane and uninspiring organisations hanging on for dear life and towards something that matters, for those around us and ourselves.

Why don’t we do it? Because we tell ourselves a different story.

Psychology and Neuroscience gives us many explanations of uncertainty, but the one I find easiest to engage with involves stories.

Whether we articulate it or not, we all have a story for our lives. Where we’ve been, why we did what we did, where we’re going now, and where we will end up. We constantly modify the story as as we encounter reality to keep ourselves comfortable. So do organisations, in just the same way.

For a while, the story we tell ourselves, and the story the organisations tells itself pootle along happily together. We get out first job, buy the recruiter’s rhetoric, and shape our own story to make the relationship what we want it to be. For a while, all is good but inevitably the stories diverge.

We begin to understand the reality versus the rhetoric; the promotion we anticipate doesn’t materialise, but the money’s ok and we have debts to pay, so we modify our story. The organisation does the same. It will make budget next year; the market has a temporary blip.

We bumble along together, each modifying our own story whilst reality has it’s way until we wake up one morning and realise.

It can take a long time to realise, particularly when conditions are benign. For some, in my own Boomer generation, it could take a whole career.

But not now. Younger generations in more volatile conditions find out much sooner.

And here we are.

I wrote yesterday about how I think Covid-19 is a “Magician”, explaining to us how the trick works, and once we understand that we stop believing the stories.

The Threshold Thing

There’s a key point in Joseph Campbell’s “Heros Journey”. This graphic, from movieoutline.com shows it well

We live in our “ordinary world”, bumbling along, until something happens. We have an insight, or an event – like Covid-19 – brings us to a threshold. Our normal first reaction is to discount it – to refuse the call – but for some, that insight will not be quiet, and something or someone else, perhaps a mentor, or just realisation, has us “cross the threshold”.

This is every movie you’ve ever seen, every novel you’ve read, and every game you’ve played. Bilbo ignored Gandalf first time round. Many will ignore the reality that Covid-19 has brought to our attention.

It is however for many threshold time.

The Community Thing

This is not a journey we want, or need, to make alone. The uncertainty we feel shrivels when subjected to critical thinking in the company of others.

It’s not about instruction, or methods, or secret sauce. Your story is yours alone.

A group of people working together however is powerful. Each in support of the others, we can make sense of what is going on, and what it means for us. Then, we can make decisions.

We want to bring a group like this together, to explore what is going on and how, because between us we might turn it to advantage. We can’t promise elves or goblins, but we might start a journey together.

If the idea appeals, sign up to this blog, and we’ll keep you posted.

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About the Author

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Complexity and volatility create enormous opportunities for those willing to go beyond the boundaries of "business as usual" to explore the edges of their business. I am an entrepreneur, a coach, a creative thinker, and above all, an explorer of possibility.

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