Driving Change Through Imagination

October 11, 2014

Driving Change through imagination

“This is not me” “I am not creative” “I am not cut out for numbers” The idea that you are not a certain ‘type’ of person assumes that you are fixed and unchangeable. How many times have you come across people saying something like this? Is it really true? Are we really that unchangeable? I for one clearly believe that whatever boundaries or borders one has chosen to confine oneself in are purely arbitrary. They are in fact limitations of the mind. And there is a whole new world of opportunities waiting to be seized if one were to step out of this arbitrary “comfort” zone. I say comfort zone because by using such labels one can free themselves from the responsibility of driving change both personally and in others. It makes it easy to accept the status quo. Either way I have found some interesting principles that can come in handy to drive such change.

One set of principles is by Stephen Covey in his all time classic “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. He introduced this idea of imagination and self-awareness. These two concepts I believe are powerful drivers of self-change. The fact that you can look at yourself from the outside is such a unique human capability. Try this. Imagine looking at yourself right now from the ceiling from directly above and picture yourself reading this blog post. This is a small demonstration of our self-awareness. Combine this with our limitless ability to imagine and we have a sure fire way to evolve, change and take ourselves to a whole new level. Think of an obstacle, a challenge you are facing in your life. Now imagine the most positive outcome for the same challenge. This is the first step to change. Omar Khan, an NLP pioneer and a globally renowned consultant on leadership demonstrated this idea in one of his workshops. He makes you stand with one arm stretched out and your finger pointing straight. Then he makes you rotate your back and asks you to mentally mark the furthest point you can reach (stretch to) with your finger. While in the same position he makes you mark a point a little further than the one you reached. He then asks you to relax and do the same twist again, this time aiming for the new point you set for yourself and voila you get there. The point simply being “Think further to go further”. Try this for yourself. Just the fact that you saw further made you go further. Imagination can do the same for life’s bigger challenges. Just allowing yourself to think freely of the possibilities is a powerful first step.

This same concept of imagining possibilities and taking them further is covered in ‘Switch’ – a book by Chip and Dan Heath. What they do however is more hands on. They gave specific examples on how to use imagination to solve a problem.The idea is to first make you imagine a scenario where by some miracle your problem is solved. Second they ask you to think of the first small sign you would see that would tell you that the problem is really gone. Lastly they would ask you to imagine your behavior if that really happened. One of the examples they gave was about relationships. Instead of undertaking a typical psycho-analysis that entails a deep study of the history of the relationship, understand the burning issues and so on they used imagination to solve the problem. This approach is known as solution-focused therapy. And this is how it goes.

Imagine that you wake up one morning and you realize your problems have disappeared.
What would be the first sign that would see to tell you that the problem is really gone? Feel happy, be at ease.
How would you behave differently? Listen more, make eye contact, respond to what the other person is actually saying.

The idea is to focus on the positive. They take it one step further. Not only do they advise on sparking your imagination but go on to find those nuggets of positive experiences. Yes, nine out of ten times you may have failed. Let’s not talk about the nine failures. Let’s talk about the one success. It worked. Now how can you do more of the same? The example they gave was about a mother whose children were out of control. But by focusing on those instances when they were not out of control the therapist enabled the mother to recreate those moments. What did she do differently? She was calmer, smiled more, worried less and did not let all the things she had to do overwhelm her.

What’s the lesson for us in driving change? For new challenges start by using your imagination. Think of the desired outcome. Focus all your action on it. For challenges that are recurring. Focus on the positive. Focus on those fleeting moments of success however brief they may be. Build on them. Having said this. This is easier said than done. Unfortunately we are wired to focus more on the negative. A topic I covered in an earlier post.  Good to know but not impossible to overcome.

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