Most of my work deals with innovations, yet I have also participated in non-for profit organizations. Both my work and volunteer activities have a common element: creating new realities.
During my stay in Chile from 1996 to 2002 I learned that realities are just images we form mentally to make sense of the world. Creating new realities is one of the most attractive conditions of human beings. My dog can fetch for food, water, or seek warmth, yet she lacks the capacity to think ahead, imagine what it would be like to create a new reality and act upon it. We have the capacity to create a vision. Are you using that capacity?
It is rather difficult to think outside the reality others have created for us. Schooling, work, finances, fashion, food, you name it. We are surrounded by invitations from others to join their realities. Last week I read in the Financial News, in Australia, an academic complaining about an entrepreneur who did not finish high school and became successful running a truck company. The academic’s final words lingered in my head: “most of us need to get an education to get a job”. What a sad reality. Despite having 11 years of tertiary education, all successfully completed with honors and prizes, I don’t feel that I needed to get an education to get a job. What is worse is that I feel we are not giving students the tools they need to have a fulfilling life.
Last week I tried a tool called Open Spaces. It is based on freedom. Meetings start when they start, they end when they end, everyone chooses to participate as he or she wills, and leave or stay at will too. I had used that at a meeting before and it was fantastic. We were all grown ups with a sense of contribution. My students instead were blocked by the freedom offered. I think we are failing at providing them with enough reassurance that they have a valid contribution to make, and put too much emphasis on grades which in turn is unfair. When my children or even when I attended schools in the US, getting a 100% mark was a reality, not an easy one, but one. In most countries that is not the case. We, the graders, play the role of evaluator to a punishing extreme. Yes it should be hard to get a 100 % mark, but it should also be possible. Otherwise we promote mediocrity. Nobody will then be encouraged to do their very best if the score is not going to be fair. It is likewise for failing. It is as if we shield both success and failure.
Moving on to creating new realities, I wish we could create a new world, where internal answers would be part of the process. It is not the grade, it is the learning. It is not the promotion, it is the contribution. Then, we spend thousands de-learning what we learned in academia: the book gets 100, the professor 90, and the best student 80. We can’t understand why people are not self-motivated, and we lose that magic gift of creating new realities.
We move to look for jobs someone else created for us, and we work on repeating realities. What happens then to creativity, innovation and contribution? That is probably why companies and institutions struggle to improve.
Then it is not the job. It is the legacy. The feeling that each single one of us is a unique individual with a valuable proposition. The acceptance that someone else’s reality can be accepted, improved, and likewise worsened by us consciously.
When we capture the essence that we too can create new realities, we raise our accountability and self-esteem, and treat others with the same respect, giving them the freedom to participate or not. That is the best gift we can give the world.