The Imaginary Leader
What happens when you need to come up with a solution to an impossible problem? How can we step up to the challenge of doing something not previously thought of or seen? When in positions of leadership, sometimes we’re asked to come up with solutions when none come to mind. The historic approach I’ve witnessed towards these types of situations is for the leader to project pressure, frustration, intimidation and finally blame on his team. Now, solutions can emerge under such circumstances, but in many times, management decides to fire/layoff whoever the blame has fallen on, and the problem doesn’t get solved, lessons aren’t learnt, and the organization ends up farther from success than before. One could argue it’s pure human nature, but this is not conducive to growth, and it decreases the odds against failure. We simply must do better than that. In order to do better, imagination must take place. Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attractions. Albert Einstein. A focus on imagination might save our organizations additional headaches, preserve relationships and most importantly increase the possibilities of solving issues. Human beings have the potential to exercise imagination to come up with better solutions to our problems. But implementing imagination into organizational problem solving isn’t that simple, yet we can start adopting more imaginative approaches. So…What’s Imagination and What Role Can It Play In Our Success? Webster’s Dictionary defines it as: “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.” Success, on the other hand, can mean different things to different people. I’ll define it here in two simple terms. To me success is: Reaching a predetermined goal. Obtaining a benefit. Having joy in life. I’m being purposely broad and vague to demonstrate that success isn’t limited to a job promotion, a monetary figure, winning a race or political gain. For some of us, getting out of our chair of bed might be a triumph worth celebrating, given the hardship of the task (yup, if you go through emotional or physical illness, you celebrate these small victories). Part of achieving success can be the mental creation of successful imagery (many Olympians project themselves in the podium to establish a secure victory and solidify confidence). Mental images can be transformed into action or simple expressions, and some people like to have a physical of their goals to stay on their way to success (vision boards anyone?). This can be a positive exercise, as the mere fact of forming a mental image of success is not as easily done as one might think. Sometimes negative cultural patterns of thoughts are ingrained into our deeply (even violently), and they can lead to stagnating behavior and impede success. It might take receiving positive imagery continuously to alter the negative thoughts and perceptions. One man has successfully done that across the world. Meet Jeff Gomez the CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment. If I was to describe him in one title, it would be “MASTER STORYTELLER”. Jeff has worked with franchises like Spiderman, Hot Wheels, Halo, Men In Black and many others (Every geek's dream, me included). Jeff has also worked in humanitarian and peacebuilding projects around the world. His participative approach to storytelling efforts have been crucial to altering negative cultural norms across cultures. That shows you the power that your imagination can have, Mi Gente. In my recent interview with him, Jeff told me about how in previous years he’d been able to put into practice his craft to improve people’s lives, “What we're talking about with things like collective journey and transmedia storytelling, it has to do with systemic narrative, and empowering large numbers of people to improve their own lives. Getting a career in the entertainment industry, I saw how story can engage and inspire people…so, I began to transpose some of the transmedia techniques I was using in these blockbuster movies to sociopolitical and geopolitical scenarios…”. Mid 2010’s Colombia Gomez’s craft took him to Colombia. The task wasn’t an easy one: “The Colombian government was trying to rebuild development across the country, and yet there were factors that kept them from progressing… [In] Colombia… they were still recovering from this terrible and very long civil conflict that they had within the nation and, [the then president] discovered that the youth were now being given excellent college educations, a fantastic new technological infrastructure in the country, now that the war was over. But they weren't doing anything. They were inactive. And he asked us to go to Colombia and try to find out why. And, uh, you know, what is causing this paralysis, this inability to take leadership and to become entrepreneurs when they had everything.” What could possibly cause the Colombian youth from dreaming? Gomez and his team decided to find out, and their findings were rather sobering, “We did the research and explored the narrative. What we discovered was that they had everything, but they also possessed the intergenerational trauma of the civil war.” The findings hit me close, not only because the proximity of Colombia and Venezuela, but because I grew up in Caracas, which constantly takes first or second place among the most violent cities in the world: Colombia “[The youth] were injured by the war [as] people passed down their trauma. When you do that, you are saying to your child, ‘do not stand out, do not become rich, do not value wealth, do not become a leader'; because all those people, the wealthy, the leaders, they were targets in the civil war, they were dragged into the conflict, by one side or the other. Sometimes the results of that conflict harmed them, destroyed their families, took away all of their possessions.” Given this horrible background, the local grownups had a clear message to all those who wanted to imagine themselves in better circumstances: Don't do it. “Of course, these children grew up, and they didn't do it. They were listening.” The ground wasn’t fertile to imagine better futures. How Do We Help Others Imagine Better Outcomes? Jeff’s team decided to change the narrative, by offering alternative stories in the media the people were consuming. Following an approach to development of mass-media serial drama: The Sabido method. Miguel Sabido, Mexican screenwriter Miguel Sabido is a Mexican screenwriter whose work has contributed to positive social changes, especially in the marginalized populations in Latin America. “His works have influenced hundreds of thousands. If not millions of women to take night courses, to improve their education and get better jobs.” So, Jeff and his team got to work, and working closely with the local leadership and media started presenting new stories of success, of reconciliation, of hope, of education and entrepreneurship. This narrative-based approach was built within an interactive structure, educating and promoting dialog, reflecting the stories of the Colombian people. It was implemented in concert with targeted social services, calling them to take action, and empowering them to take change into effect. “When we did this, many of them stood up all at the same time because the stories from the radio, from the television, from the telenovelas, from the people who are giving sermons in the church [had the message] ‘It's okay. It's okay. Now we're going to reconcile with our former enemies because we are one people and together it became better for the Colombians.” A new imagination had been born, and with it, new hope for many, despite the continuing challenges. So, what can we learn from Jeff regarding imagination? Here are some of my favorite lessons: #dream #imagine Provide a safe space for imagination & creativity to foster: Once psychological safety is established, it will be easier to give way to imagination. Your team needs to know their ideas and input will be respected and encouraged. Gain the trust of the team, once you’ve obtained it, don’t betray it. Get to know your audience: Who are they? What’s their historic context? Learn why imagination and creativity might be missing in their lives. Sometimes people’s imagination is curtailed because of deep trauma. Meet them where they already are: If you want to help others dream and become more creative (including your team), go to where the source of their messaging resides. Find out what messages they are consuming. What kind of media are they consuming? Be strategic: Once you’ve identified pain points, motivations, cultural nuances, and obstacles to Craft a message that will resonate deeply with your audience. Find the right channels and transmit the message in an orchestrated way.
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