Some Days, We Have to See What’s Not There

What is vision, but a daydream?  We grow up and add structure, new words like “pillars” and various acronyms but, at its heart, is the dream.  Yet, we often talk about being a dreamer like it is a bad thing.  Unrealistic.  Unprofessional.  Untethered.

I am a dreamer.  A daydream believer.  And, I have come to believe that daydreaming is strategic.  It’s a way of conjuring up what is possible.  You have to be able to see it to build it.  And, to see it, you must be able to dream.

Bringing a vision into being is necessarily a creative endeavor.  To create something new, we must leave ourselves space to imagine what could be.  Beyond what is.

Think about the founder stories you hear.  The world’s most important and exciting companies.  Innovation you now can’t imagine life without.  Most began with little more than a dream.  A dream, plus fierce resolve and courage.  A commitment to impossible thinking. 

I’ve had the privilege of working with many founders over the course of my career, each of whom took a leap and built their dream.  For that, I have the deepest respect and admiration and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to play a small part in bringing their dreams into being.

Through it all, I’ve found I too am called to build.  Many of us are.  Building businesses, divisions, functions, teams, lives.  I’ve built within established structures and, now, I’m building in an open field.  And, in doing so, I’ve learned it’s the dreamer in me that makes it possible.  Dreaming is my superpower.  Because, that first day (and the many more like it that follow), when it’s on you to figure things out, you have to be able to see what could be – the more complete and evolved future state – to make it through.  You’re operating on pure possibility.  And believing that what can be, will be.

To know what to build, you must also be able to see what’s not there.  What are you not doing today?  What is essential?  Where is the whitespace?  It’s easy to give into the urgency and immediacy of what’s coming at you through your inbox or your day to day, but you have to zoom out to see what’s missing.  Not just refine what’s there. 

And, while experience building is helpful, you can’t just build what you’ve built before or something you’ve seen elsewhere.  You have to feel out the precise texture of the landscape and build to fit its unique features and needs.  What must be built first and why?  Where and how should you build?  That first moment of breaking ground providing a little glimpse of what could be, which helps make it real and inspires leaning in further.  Step by step down the foggy path

The irony is, while you must have a strong vision, it can’t be too rigid.  So much is unknown, and that’s part of the magic.  Dance with what’s present.  Keeping your mind in the moment as you do.  Manifest, but hold it loosely.  Be flexible and remain open.  Know you will see and learn more as you go.

When it comes to building, I tend to think first about developing needs and goals, but the same is ultimately true of skills and expertise.  What do you bring and where are there gaps?  How can you build to fill in those gaps and complement one another?  There can be hesitation when it comes to identifying gaps – seeing them as shortcomings, perhaps – but I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. 

A valued business partner of mine once said to me, “I try to make sure I’m never the smartest person in the room.”  What he was saying was profound.  It wasn’t that he was saying he was in any way unqualified or less than.  This wasn’t coming from a place of self-doubt or lacking. 

He was saying it’s just not worth it if there’s nothing in it for him to learn.  In other words, in every room he enters, he’s hoping to be surrounded by smart, talented people who can push him and make him better.  Show him what he’s wrong about.  People he can learn from and, in turn, grow from. 

I align with this mentality wholeheartedly.  Having things to learn from others is not a weakness.  It is a tremendous opportunity that should be pursued with conviction and intentionality.  

I’ve also spoken to mentees and clients who are hesitant to take on a role or opportunity if they haven’t mastered every aspect of the job description and that of every role and function that rolls up into it.  Here again, having mastered it all is not necessary.  You can build while doing.  Learn through action.  Plus, you don’t have to learn and do absolutely everything yourself.  Think about a CEO or the President.  It takes a village and it becomes about building the village that has the collective expertise and works well together to bring it all to life, learning with and from one another as they go. 

In our roles as leaders, at all levels, we must also see who is not there.  Whose voice is missing?  Who is not a part of the conversation?  Do we have different perspectives and experiences represented?  Are we making space for different styles?  Noticing those who may not immediately participate?  Those who may favor reflection or need to be invited to the discussion?  The little movement of the mouth signaling someone was going to say something and then silenced themselves…  How do you invite, include, embrace and engage? 

There is also the vision for a better world.  One in which we’re naturally creating diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures of belonging.  One in which our children will be safe.  Our planet will be healthy.  Where everyone can thrive.  When it feels too far off, daydreaming is the fuel to keep going. 

It’s important to remember that this is all true in terms of dreaming the life you want into being as well.  In each case, seeing what’s not there and bringing the vision into being is not a one-time thing.  There is no end state.  It’s a constant practice we must remember to hold close and keep coming back to.  A constant evolution we must keep believing in to propel.

So, to all the dreamers, I say – dream and build, build and dream.  Make it better than anything we’ve seen before.

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