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When we are dreaming, we should let ourselves and our employees free to dream big dreams. Our dreams are powerful because of their boundlessness - they embody our creative spirits and best talents. Dreaming, like flying, is an art and skill that can be nurtured in ourselves. However, it is fragile like a bird and bounded by the iron cage. The iron cage represents all the voices that prevent us from dreaming freely - whether rationality or feasibility or organizational constraints. We should create more space and freedom for ourselves and our employees to fly beyond the iron cage; which will result in more freedom, risk-taking, and courage to dream big dreams. If we can create gravity-free spaces in our organizations, more employees will be eager to experiment with flying without fear; ultimately building the muscles of power and resilience to visualize, design, prototype, and experiment with better alternatives. We should teach the new generation of students to dream bigger dreams, discovering and unleashing own strengths and passions, following dreams creatively and relentlessly, thinking like an entrepreneur, and designing lives and careers creatively.
As economic crisis and uncertainty has become the norm, we are surrounded by the discourses of austerity. Practices such as downsizing and layoffs cause a severe emotional toll and deprive us of our humanity. Today’s organizations are now faced with a workforce whose attitude is not one of loyalty, trust, and engagement, but one of skepticism, fear and cynicism.
Humans are not resources. They are not cogs in the corporate machine. They are not commodities that are easily replaceable parts in a system. They are not fungible. They have emotions, hopes, wishes, regrets, ups and downs. Humans are not resources, but creative, enthusiastic, and talented individuals, who continuously reflect, learn, inspire, change, and make a difference.
The corporate world has increasingly become emotionally and spiritually barren. We have become too preoccupied with effectiveness, profit orientation, material success, competitiveness, and speed. Using models that are too rigid, isolated, specialized, formal and unconnected, we created structures that stifled the needs our employees have for meaning, sense-making, reflection, exploration, discovery, and spirituality.
We have advanced theorizing and teaching on the management of capital, resources, materials, and knowledge; whereas we have little understanding, research and teaching efforts or initiatives on practices centered on dreams, passions, emotions, hope, virtues, and spirituality. We have focused a lot on motivation while essentially neglecting inspiration. By imposing too much formal structure and content; we have suppressed reflective thought, individual creativity, and the innate human capacity for lifelong emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. By focusing too much on problems and problem solving, we diminish employees’ abilities to nurture dreaming, hope, creativity, and story telling. By focusing too much on numbers, statistics, and material performance; managers neglect their followers’ needs for reflection, soulful engagement, inspiration, and meaning creation. By focusing too much on competition, we have harmed deep relationships, interpersonal trust, connection, team spirit, and empathy among our stakeholders.
We only focused on predictive, cause and effect models of human and organizational behavior. We designed formal hierarchies and linear structures in our organizations. We separated management knowledge into managerial functions, disciplines and further sub disciplines. We fragmented our values, our behavior, our spirituality, our lives, and our work. We separated our bodies from our minds, our minds from our hearts, our hearts from our soul, and our souls from one another. In the name of cool, detached, “scientific” objectivity; we lost our and our employees’ passionate and compassionate engagement. Adopting only materialist, positivist, and reductionist theories has led to the false and dangerous assumption that the human nature is basically selfish, egoist, competitive, opportunistic, and greedy.
We need to move beyond the tired ideological position of the sole legitimate purpose of business being maximizing profit. We need to break free from this iron cage. There is a need to start from scratch, having a renaissance spirit and mind, to dream big dreams. Dreaming is flying; and dreams are our wings. It is time for us to unleash our imagination and set sail to new horizons. We should create more space and freedom for ourselves and our employees to fly beyond the iron cage; which will result in more freedom, risk-taking, and courage to dream big dreams.
“I can't really explain it,
I haven't got the words
It's a feeling that you can't control
I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are
But at the same time something makes you whole
It's like that there's a music playing in your ear
And I'm listening, and I'm listening and then I disappear
And then I feel a change
Like a fire deep inside
Something bursting me wide open impossible to hide
And suddenly I'm flying, flying like a bird
Like electricity, electricity
Sparks inside of me
And I'm free I'm free.”
London, UK. These words come from Billy Elliot who is asked what he feels like when he is dancing. Billy Elliot is one of London’s leading West End musicals focusing on the dreams and passions of a boy in North East England struggling in the midst of miners’ strike, family and community strife. Here are the videos of Billy Elliott musical of London’s West End (where Billy is talking about his passion in dancing and how it feels like electricity inside of him.
Barcelona, Spain. Ferran Adrià, the Spanish celebrity chef-owner of elBulli, spends six months in his laboratory kitchen experimenting with new recipes, inventing new techniques, and creative methods to transform the field of international gastronomy. Adrià reinvents elBulli's 35-course tapas menu designed to surprise and enchant his guests through unlikely combinations of textures and tastes, as depicted in the film 'Cooking in Progress' showcasing Ferran Adrià's passion of cooking.
Istanbul,Turkey. Asaf Osman Ceken, an ardent tea lover, has been sharing his passion of Turkish tea with thousands of citizens inIstanbul. Since the last decade, he has been preparing tea in a traditional semaver pot every morning and sharing hundreds of cups with everyone in the city for free. He combines his love of tea with Turkish classical music and ‘a philosophy of tea’. He dreams of opening a boutique curiosity shop centred on tea (‘Cayhane’) where he will synthesize diverse tea blends and preparation/serving techniques with particular emotions and musical tones.
Bihar,India. Over the course of 22 years, Dashrath Manjhi, known as ‘Mountain Man’, single-handedly carved a road through a mountain Das. After his wife died due to lack of medical treatment because the nearest town with a doctor was 70 km away, Manjhi carved a 360-foot-long, 25-foot-deep, 30-foot-wide road through Gehlour hills over 22 years.
What do these disparate examples whisper us about positive change and innovation?
First, the creative can be ‘extraordinary’ and ‘paranormal’; defying rationality and implying non-linear and quantum qualities. The realm of human spirit and imagination goes beyond the limits of reason. This is when a miracle or magic happens. We live in a world that is impossibly more fantastic than the limits of the present materialist scientific paradigm. That is why we should take ‘the extraordinary’ elements of creativity and innovation more seriously in our lives and in our organizations. We need new ways of thinking to inquire the mystical, transcendent, exceptional, spiritual, and magical elements of creativity and innovation.
Second, the role of the heart is indispensible in innovation. These people dreamed big dreams and pursued them relentlessly and creatively. They did not wait for any organizational support, incentive, or return. They progressed because they acted as ants progressing over a journey of a thousand miles. They were flying like birds; seemingly unaware of the rules of gravity. They embody the creative spirit and the free nature of human beings. We need more of that sense of belief, passion, creativity, independence, and dedication in our lives and in our organizations.
I visualize a larger vocabulary of creativity and innovation which is enriched and nurtured by different traditions and disciplines of humanity; much larger than the conventional paradigm dominated by efficiency, power, and self-interest; and driven by shareholder value, short term goals and profit maximization. These traditions and disciplines of humanity extends well beyond the boundaries and limits of the modern corporation. Some of these traditions are thousands of years old; such as the legacy of world religions. I dream of conceptualizing the impact of creativity and innovation in much broader terms than profitability; such as legacy, fulfillment, contribution, positive impact, and service. Our organizational dictionary needs new definitions, new constructs, fresh and creative thinking, and a more integrative outlook. We should feel more comfortable in borrowing terms and concepts from the worlds of arts, humanities, and philosophy.
I dream of a renaissance of creative spirits. I dream of organizations where individuals unleash their talents, creativity, and imagination to dream big dreams. Individuals express themselves and their dreams to the world through social media. They develop their own masterpieces based on their talents, interests, and strengths – whether art, music, multimedia, literature, knowledge, or technology. They can prototype and experiment with their projects; putting them into life and custom manufacturing them using 3D printers. They can fly with their dreams; which enable them to become more independent, engaged, creative, fulfilled, and passionate.
We can transform barren workplaces into abundant workplaces by incorporating ‘dreams’ into our organizations. Dreams about a better self, family, community, city, and world. Dreams can be used to visualize, design, and empower spirited organizations of the 21st century; which are engaged with passion, alive with meaning, and connected with compassion.
Innovation requires belief, dreaming, courage, creative chaos, excitement, compassion, and trust to thrive. Allow for variation. Evolve past a one-size-fits-all mentality and permit mass customization across the organization. Allow self-organization and emergence.
Celebrate dreaming. Embrace diversity. Ensure that every person has the right to dreaming and creativity. Respect and honour individual differences to bring out individual talent and excellence.
Sharing passions and dreams is legitimate. Create psychological safety for people to express their dreams, deeper values, and things that excite them. Use pictures and visuals during conversations and meetings. Use stories and metaphors to inspire a shared vision.
Create as many ideas as possible even if they do not seem relevant or reasonable at first. Build on the pipeline of these ideas, synthesizing and iterating them to come up with tangible solutions, or projects.
Seek inspiration in diverse worlds to refresh ideas and enable out-of-the-box thinking (Hobbies as diverse as poetry, skydiving, storytelling, yoga, and dancing may be helpful in inspiring new ideas and building bridges across different contexts)
Immerse yourself in diverse settings (i.e. visit a design museum, participate in a jazz concert, attend a wedding ceremony, volunteer at a hospital, go to a picnic etc.
Apply bio-mimicry. Study best ideas from nature and emulate these designs and processes to solve human problems.
Invest in the creative ecosystem. Invest in the quality of place. Cultivate & reward creativity. Nurture the creatives. Value risk-taking. Build a community of dreamers.
Create structures where everyone learns from each other. Let the workplace be media of self-expression, passion, deep learning, and flow. Evoke engaged learning where employees design, create, play, and innovate.
Your role is to observe, mentor, fascinate, inspire, challenge, and facilitate. Engage people in ways that have relevance to them. Capture their attention and imagination.
Incubate the future. Enable people to dream, envision, and design sustainable solutions for complex problems such as sustainability, health care, poverty, or education. Allow people to see their role in creating a better world.
Transform from fear to passion and purpose. Envision new possibilities of love, passion, and compassion. A positive future does not emerge from fear or despair.
Inception is the seed of all. Dream vigorously. Apply design thinking.
Go beyond instrumentality. Do not be attached on outcomes, let go of them. The victory is in the process. Recognize that there is a larger picture of mystery and wisdom.
You are unique. Find and fulfill your true calling. Unleash your own creativity and imagination; and help people around you to unleash their own potentials.
I build on the contributions of many great scholars dedicated to understanding our inner landscapes and creative processes in all its fullness and complexity; including contributions in positive organizational scholarship (Cameron, Dutton, and Quinn, 2003), sustaining engagement (Nilsson, 2009), creativity in leadership (Amabile and Khaire, 2008), design thinking (Berger, 2009; Brown, 2008; Martin, 2009), spirit and soul at work (Mitroff and Dutton, 1999), transcendence (Ashforth, 2001), calling (Bunderson and Thompson, 2009), compassion (Dutton et al. 2006), consciousness raising and self-awareness (Mirvis, 2008), reflection (Delbecq, 2000), passion (Bolman and Deal, 1995; Robinson, 2009), wisdom (Kessler and Bailey, 2007), and many others.