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Visionmaking Should be a Daily Activity

--by Patrick O'Neill (Jul 19, 2010)


One of the most important responsibilities of every leader is to envision the future. Visionmaking should be a daily activity ... and deal with practices of inventing the future, a future that frees us from the quagmire of the status quo and allows us to enter a “field of possibility.” Possibility is the geography that supports individual and collective growth, development and achievement.

Every leader has an enemy … and that enemy is the status quo. The status quo is defined as “a state of stasis where there is neither motion or development and where there is no hope of change.” It is common knowledge that in business, as in life, we either advance or decline and there is nothing in between. The status quo disguises decline. We are seduced into the false sense that things remain exactly the same, when we’re actually heading downhill but so slowly that it is virtually imperceptible until free-fall occurs. By the time we recognize we’re falling, it’s too late.

Wise leaders see that the status quo is the breeding ground for organizational inertia, the inability or unwillingness to move or act. Once this condition arrests an organization, team or individual, the result is lethargy, apathy and disinterest. These are the signposts of decline…and an announcement that leadership has been abandoned. Sir William Ostler, the father of modern medicine, suggests that such conditions can be formidable in their ability to undermine our energies and jeopardize our preferred future: “By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy -- indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of satisfaction.”

Carelessness, distraction and narcissistic pre-occupation undermine a chief resource in leadership -- the practice of reflection. Reflection is the act of turning the eyes from the outer world to the inner landscape of our aspirations, dreams, and possibilities and opportunities. This is the domain of the future and vision is fashioned in the silence of careful contemplation.

-- Patrick O’Neill, from “Envisioning a Preferred Future”

 


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On Jul 13, 2011 sowunmi babatunde wrote:

What a logical and creative presentation. It is a iiterary masterpiece. How i wish i can write like this.



On Jul 6, 2011 June Bright wrote:

Indeed, we need to reflect on ourseleves everyday. This is the way in which we know what are our shortcomings along the way. It is good to dwell on our victories but we need to know our limitations because they will put our feet on the ground; they make us humble. The victories that we have would not be there if there's no help from above. Our limitations would also necessitate us to have visioning day by day. We need to submit our plans to Him for afterall, He alone can take us to the right path.



On Aug 14, 2010 Mary Grace Chavez wrote:

Vision-making should be a part of our daily life. We are all leaders, a leader of our own life, whatever decision we make, the end result will be seen in our life, and as a leader, we should know where we're heading to, and that's the part where vision-making is really a must. As wee visualize, we materialize, we can not have an end result that we want if we don't know what we really want in the first place.



On Jul 22, 2010 NP wrote:

Our internal status quo becomes apparent during meditation. The mind is so noisy, so chaotic. The status quo is to entertain any thought. The status quo is to disengage with the present moment, to roll in the past or roll in the future. The status quo is inattention. The status quo is to react to temporary discomfort. To go against the internal status quo is to keep the mind still, to not identify with temporary sensations, to experience them with greater awareness and patience than you thought possible. Going against internal status quo is discovering new vistas of personal strength and capability. That is self-leadership. On the subject of external status quo :) and leadership, I recently learned about the remarkable story of Barbados. A Caribbean island comparable in terms of history and resources to Jamaica 40 years ago, it now has twice the median income of Jamaica, is thriving economically, and has over 95% literacy while Jamaica remains poor and lacking in education  See full.

Our internal status quo becomes apparent during meditation. The mind is so noisy, so chaotic. The status quo is to entertain any thought. The status quo is to disengage with the present moment, to roll in the past or roll in the future. The status quo is inattention. The status quo is to react to temporary discomfort. To go against the internal status quo is to keep the mind still, to not identify with temporary sensations, to experience them with greater awareness and patience than you thought possible. Going against internal status quo is discovering new vistas of personal strength and capability. That is self-leadership.

On the subject of external status quo :) and leadership, I recently learned about the remarkable story of Barbados. A Caribbean island comparable in terms of history and resources to Jamaica 40 years ago, it now has twice the median income of Jamaica, is thriving economically, and has over 95% literacy while Jamaica remains poor and lacking in education. The difference? Years ago the Barbadian economy had a financial crisis, and the country's leadership made a decision against the status quo historically by exercising monetary restraint and asking its population to spend less. The labor leadership stepped up and asked people to accept massive wage cuts under the slogan "Save Barbados". Business leadership recognized labor's patriotic sacrifice and decided to accept a lower profit margin. Through mutual trust and solidarity between government, business, and people (later formalized as the "Social Partnership"), the country came out of its crisis and real wages are now higher than before the cut. And Barbadians are actually happy with their political leaders! bit.ly/9dJtBH

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On Jul 22, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

  Bernard Shaw's bold statement comes to mind: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." As I ask myself, who are some unreasonable men I am grateful the world has seen, many names spring to mind. In the context of vision and being unreasonable, the first name is Dr. V, a doctor who dreamt of building a massive eyecare facility starting at the age of 58, with pretty much no capital. In 18 years, he had done it, and founded Aravind Eye Hospitals. The remarkable story of Dr. V has been captured by Pavi in her film, "Infinite Vision." In the film, someone remarks that Dr. V's vision of what's possible was way beyond anything reasonable. Continuing along unreasonable people, Gandhi springs to mind. Nipun shared a story in a talk he gave at Stanford,  about when Tagore stopped by Gandhi's cottage, and asked him, "The who  See full.

 

Bernard Shaw's bold statement comes to mind: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

As I ask myself, who are some unreasonable men I am grateful the world has seen, many names spring to mind. In the context of vision and being unreasonable, the first name is Dr. V, a doctor who dreamt of building a massive eyecare facility starting at the age of 58, with pretty much no capital. In 18 years, he had done it, and founded Aravind Eye Hospitals. The remarkable story of Dr. V has been captured by Pavi in her film, "Infinite Vision." In the film, someone remarks that Dr. V's vision of what's possible was way beyond anything reasonable.

Continuing along unreasonable people, Gandhi springs to mind. Nipun shared a story in a talk he gave at Stanford,  about when Tagore stopped by Gandhi's cottage, and asked him, "The whole country is waiting for you to lead. Do you have a vision of what to do?" Gandhi replied, "No, but you can be sure that I'm praying." Prayer was his method of achieving clarity, and from that clarity came the vision of the Dandi (salt) March, which changed the course of Indian history.

Then of course, we have Nipun and the CF Posse. It takes great vision to conceive of a restaurant that feeds people and hands a check of $0. It takes great vision to make smile cards, believing that all people need is a reminder to be true to their own giving nature. One can go on and on.

Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can be. How do I know that I'm vision-making and not daydreaming? Moreover, the piece talks about avoiding apathy. Apathy and equanimity seem to look alike - both involve not reacting to stimuli. How do I know my non-reaction is out of apathy or equanimity? The test, I believe, has to do with love and presence. In apathy, there is no love, and a lot of hate if we dig deep enough, most of it being self-hatred. In equanimity, not only is there an absence of hate, there is a tremendous amount of presence, and a love of all that is, without distinction. When I daydream, I am trying to make the unbearable present a little more bearable until I can get out. In vision-making, I have fully accepted the present, and with great clarity, I now see what I can be and help be. The ancients, when they had such moments of clarity, would utter "So be it."

Indeed, Paul hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that vision-making at its essence is about clarity, seeing things as they are, being open to possibilities. He shared the story of John Wood, an overworked Microsoft executive, who was hiking in Nepal, and a chance encounter led him to discover that schools in Nepal lacked books. So, he became the change, and collected donated books, and took them to these schools, on the back of donkeys. 

It seems to me that the difference between an ego-centered vision and an ego-less vision is that we try to lead the former and the latter leads us. An ego-less vision is so inspiring to us that we understand the meaning of "the path has found us." Such a vision also brings people together in an inexplicable way to serve on shared journeys. When being fulfilled, the journey on such visions becomes the reward. The vision nourishes us. We sometimes feel that the visions are through us and not from us. An ego-centric vision on the other hand, drains us of our life-force, requiring constant nourishment.

As I reflect on these two distinctions, it seems to me that the ego-centric vision can take insidious forms, and the biggest sign of it is that we go deeper into confusion and further away from clarity. The ego-centric vision leads to more apathy and less empathy, with a very narrow understanding of "I." 

To make this concrete, I was having a conversation with someone - lets call him John. John is very frustrated with his job, and constantly bickers. Since I've known John for a while, I know that he has a really good deal. People love him at work, and he constantly gets opportunities for growth that other people would really envy. Yet,  he takes none of them, choosing to believe that he has a really bad deal, and looking for the greener grass on the other side. Of course, his frustration is that he does not know where to find this grass. It is so easy to see the mistakes of others than our own, and it was clear that John was abusing his own life. He could not do any vision-making because there was so much hate in his mind. He was apathetic to himself, with a very ego-centric vision of himself progressing in ways that were not clear, and becoming very angry with anyone who interacted with him in ways that he did not approve. Long story short, I tried putting myself in his shoes and realized one important thing, a piece of wisdom a mentor had shared long back, "Before you can reject, you must accept."

In other words, I can only say that I don't want something if I know, truly know, that something. One cannot truly know something if one does not love that something. So, in order to know where I must go and what is for me, I must love with no exceptions, and comprehend what is in front of me. That brings knowledge, and the test of true knowledge is mastery and excellence. Only when I am the master can I, with freedom, say that I can move on.

Bertrand Russell is a great inspiration in this regard. At a young age, he was frustrated with life and was ready to commit suicide. Just before he did so, he realized that he had not mastered a particular math problem. So he postponed his plans, and went about solving it. That led to another puzzle and to another, and finally, he gave up his plans altogether. 

Vision-making has a social aspect too. We create room for other people's visions by being genuine listeners, and when we don't listen and are too busy with our own visions, we suck out the space and diminish possibilities. Inspired vision-making necessarily involves dissociating the vision from the vision-maker. Only then can vision-makers freely attach themselves to any vision and give their whole self to it, and retain the freedom to pull back and go to another vision. 

Nipun shared the story of how the 4-minute mile was broken  by Roger Bannister, after whom many others broke it. Until Roger did this, it was considered humanly impossible. Bannister, reflecting back, did not consider this to be the greatest achievement of his life. He felt that his work thereafter in neurology was much more important. Now that is a real vision-maker!

Another great vision-maker that comes to mind is Dadasaheb Phalke, chronicled in the lovely film, Harishchandrachi Factory (available on Netflix). A man who fights against all odds to start up the Indian film industry, with the first film being on a man who is the envy of the Gods because he chooses to always tell the truth. At one point, during a screening of his films in London, he got an offer to stay on and direct films in the UK. His response, "If I don't go back, how will the Indian film industry start?" The rest, as they say, is history.

With gratitude!

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On Jul 20, 2010 Jamie wrote:

I live by this, and am inspired to find that others do too!



On Jul 20, 2010 Jason Fonceca wrote:

Fan-frickin'-tastic. Absolutely beautiful writing, thanks for sharing. We have a world of visionaries, and apathy is mainly what blocks us from rocking life :)



On Jul 20, 2010 raj wrote:

The article which i read is very impresive in nature and the author articulated in natural way which reflects to every one's life,anytime in their life.



On Jul 20, 2010 david wrote:

great