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About the Author
Paul is the author of Breakaway Planning: 8 Big Questions to Guide Organizational Change (Amacom, 1998) and The WOW Factory: Creating a Customer Focus Revolution in Your Business (Irwin, 1995). Articles he has written have appeared in publications such as Quality Digest and the business journal Biz.
Art McNeil founded the Achieve Group, a consulting company whose namesake Achieve Global has gone on to become one of the largest training companies in the world. He also served as chairman of Times Mirror Training’s international board of directors.
Art wrote the international best-seller The “I” of the Hurricane: Creating Corporate Energy (Stoddart Publishing, 1987), which has been translated into several languages, and co-authored TheVIP Strategy: Leadership Skills for Exceptional Performance (Key Porter Books, 1989). With partner Paul Levesque, he is the coauthor of a weekly syndicated newspaper column entitled Dreamcrafting.
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DREAM CRAFTINGTHE ART OF DREAMING BIG THE SCIENCE OF MAKING IT HAPPEN
By PAUL LEVESQUE ART McNEIL
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Paul Levesque and Art McNeil
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLife in Alignment
"Oh, I'd love to have a boat like that. I dream of sailing to the tropics on my own boat some day."
"I'd give anything for a dream house like the one in that movie."
"She really landed a dream job. Her new benefits package is a dream."
"Oh well—I can always dream, can't I?"
Dream on, brother. Sister, dream on.
We all yearn for things. The stuff of dreams. But interestingly, only very few of us actually set about trying to make our dreams come true in any serious, methodical way. Instead, we devote the bulk of our leisure time watching or reading about the real or fictional exploits of others as they pursue their respective big dreams.
A Driving Force
So, while we're on the subject of fictional exploits—read any good stories lately? See any good movies recently?
The reason for asking is that you can learn something important from every gripping story ever told. It doesn't matter how far back you go, from today's hit movies and novels, through old-time radio dramas and silent movies, to literary classics from another age, back even to ancient myths and legends. For any story to capture the interest and imagination of its audience, it must at the very least have a central character who is driven by a powerful personal sense of purpose. In every story, these central characters find themselves with an important job to do or a serious problem to solve—they are on a mission—and they are obsessed with getting the mission accomplished.
An employee at one of the television networks recently found several lost episodes of the old television series Mission Impossible. The producers apparently feared these particular episodes might not do well in the ratings, and so they were never televised. Interestingly, these were all episodes in which Impossible Missions Force leader Jim Phelps, played by actor Peter Graves, upon hearing the details of the mission via the self-destructing tape player, thought it over for a few moments and then decided, "Nah ... I don't think so."
Just kidding. No one would ever film a story in which the lead character gives up even before the mission has begun—not even if the mission is "impossible." This is precisely why we use the word hero (or heroine) to describe the lead character in most stories; this fierce determination to overcome all obstacles and achieve the objective strikes us as nothing less than heroic.
Just when covert operative Lance Rykardt has managed to free himself from the cage that is being lowered into the vat of boiling acid, he is struck in the neck by a dart tipped with a potent, fast-acting poison. He knows a secret antidote is locked within the main underground vault—but the lock's combination is stored in a computer that can only be activated by a special key, and the key has been swallowed by one of two deadly great white sharks circling hungrily in the deep tank from which there is no means of escape. Most of us, finding ourselves in a similar predicament (as the result, say, of a vacation gone horribly, horribly wrong) would probably be inclined to accept the hopelessness of the situation with a softly muttered profanity or two, and then seek out a reasonably comfortable place to lie and wait for the poison to begin taking effect. Not our hero, however. He's on a mission to save the world,and nothing—nothing—is going to deter him. He will find a way, somehow, and will make it just in the nick of time. We will all applaud, and feel we got our money's worth. Mission accomplished. Very exciting; great stuff.
Our screen and literary heroes never give up. That's why we continue to buy tickets to see them in action (or books to read about their exploits).
All guidebooks for aspiring screenwriters or novelists give the same advice: to make your story truly gripping, box your hero into a situation that appears to be utterly hopeless, one in which a great deal is at stake, where the character stands to lose everything that matters most to him or her. Not just his or her life; the lives of innocent loved ones too, if you can arrange it. In fact, if you can put the entire world in grave jeopardy, all the better. Now, start piling on the obstacles. New twists and turns, each adding to the risk and danger, each creating an impediment more insurmountable than the one before. Make the hero really sweat, really suffer—and make the audience think, "How is he [or she] ever going to get out of this one?" And then, fashion a climactic resolution that draws on the hero's own internal resources to produce a completely satisfactory conclusion.
This last point is crucial. No outside forces to the rescue. No happy accidents, as in: "Just then, to Rykardt's great relief, an earthquake rocked the entire underground complex, rupturing the great door of the main vault, which swung open as if to welcome him." No good. No heroism there. He's just going to have to somehow overcome his long-standing fear of sharks and get down into that tank, and fast—or come up with some wildly ingenious (but at least semiplausible) alternate course of action. The solution must come from within the character, a product of the hero's "character," his or her stubborn determination to overcome all obstacles. That is to say, it must come from his or her personal sense of mission.
Many young people see the latest high-tech computer-generated special-effects extravaganza at the local multiplex and think exciting stories only came into the world around the same time they did. Stories from before their time are boring, boring, boring. Only as children get older do they begin to realize today's stories, stripped of their modern trappings, are simply variations of the same stories that have been told for generations, for millennia, back to campfires at the mouths of caves. These stories tell of heroes with something important to do, who do not let any obstacle get in their way. They tell of people who want something, and want it real bad. These stories resonate across the ages because they are depictions of a skill that people from all eras and all cultures admire. A skill they wish they themselves possessed. The heroes in these stories know how to make a mission the driving force in their lives. They know how to keep their resolve burning white-hot despite overwhelming obstacles. Their stories remind us that no matter how constrained we may feel by the circumstances of our own lives, our problems are nothing compared to what our heroes have to overcome—and somehow they still manage to get the job done. We use the word entertainment to describe such stories, but their function in our lives and throughout history goes far deeper than mere diversion. Such stories nourish our deep-seated need to believe that life's obstacles really can be overcome, that dreams really can come true.
Real-Life Missions, Real-Life Heroes
It isn't only our fictional heroes who exhibit this fierce determination to achieve some particular purpose in life. History brings us face-to-face with many real-world heroes fuelled by the same driving will to accomplish something they consider important. In the last century alone, plenty of wartime heroes and heroic pioneers of exploration, invention, sport, and industry come readily to mind.
Even in the everyday world there are heroes to be found. The producers of network newsmagazine shows like 60 Minutes or 20/20 or Dateline recognize this, of course, and are always on the lookout for inspiring stories of people who "overcame the odds" and whose lives resonate with some deep sense of purpose. "A story you'll never forget," the announcer promises on the show's opening teaser promo. "A story that will touch your heart."
For book lovers, an alternate source of inspiration can be found in the biography sections of libraries or bookstores: the lives of high-achievers throughout history all neatly arranged in alphabetical order. These individuals come from every conceivable walk of life, most of them sharing one key attribute—an all-consuming clarity of purpose, an unwavering determination to overcome all obstacles and achieve their goals. They share a will to win that could not be crushed. Heroes were, are, and always will be, people with a Big Dream.
It is this single fact, perhaps more than anything else, that would appear to be the prime differentiator between our real-life heroes and ourselves. They know precisely what their one overarching mission in life is, and are somehow able to invest all of their efforts and energies into achieving that one, single, all-important mission. They're not being pulled in a dozen different directions at once, like we are, always struggling to balance career roles and parent roles and juggle a dozen conflicting priorities. They don't have to wear sixteen different hats every day, like we do. They're focused on their one Big Dream, and are able to devote all their time and energy toward making the dream come true. That's where the big difference lies, right there.
It's naïve to think of the great dreamcrafters as people who weren't, and aren't, being pulled in as many directions as the rest of us. When you study the minutiae of their lives up close, one day at a time, it's easy to confirm that there is as much clutter and distraction in their world as in our own, as many conflicting priorities for them to sort out as for us. It's only when you step back to that "higher order," that macro view, that the overall pattern of their lives looks different. Viewed in its entirety, the life of a dreamcrafter appears strikingly unidirectional.
You may remember the old physics experiment in school: the effect of a magnet on iron filings. The filings are distributed at random on a sheet of paper, and then a magnet is placed beneath the paper;the magnetic field causes the filings to shift into visible alignment along the field's axis. Interestingly, individual filings actually move very little under the magnet's influence, yet the overall pattern of the filings becomes strikingly different.
Any deeply held aspiration—a big dream, a clear sense of mission—will produce an "energy field." It will bring all the otherwise random and unconnected elements of day-to-day life into alignment along a single axis, all pointing in a single direction, toward the realization of the dream. The character of individual days may change very little, but the overall pattern of a refocused, mission-driven life will look and feel dramatically different.
The effects of aspirational fields are evident in the biographies and profiles of dreamcrafters. It's as if virtually everything they did on a day-to-day basis, no matter how mundane, ultimately helped move them in some direct or indirect way closer to the realization of their dream. Their aspirational fields brought their whole lives—past, present, future—into alignment. They too had to shop for groceries and take out the garbage and talk teenage daughters out of getting their navels pierced (or the equivalent). They too had to wear many hats and juggle many priorities and solve many problems and get around seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Yet they learned to see even the distractions as a meaningful part of their overall mission, not as negative elements pulling them away from the pursuit of their dream. (The need to drive children to a weekend school event, for example, might have been perceived as a distraction—or as an excellent opportunity to engage in conversation en route designed to strengthen the children's support for the dream over the longer term.) This sense of alignment helped fuel the dreamcrafters' determination—and it is their unwavering determination to make the Big Dream come true, above all else, that allowed them to bring into their lives experiences and achievements of a kind most people can only barely imagine.
Heroes, remember, are people who never give up. Their determination to achieve a compelling mission brings everything around them into alignment toward that goal, and this alignment further strengthens their determination to succeed. This is what heroes have going for them.
The first step in dreamcrafting is to get the same thing going for us. We must redefine a basic mission for our lives, one that is compelling enough to generate a strong aspirational field around us. We must, in other words, find a Big Dream we can believe in.
Life Imitating Business
The discouragement you see in so many people, the lethargy, the passive resignation, the suspicion that things aren't likely to get much better, and if anything will probably get worse—these are all symptoms of life devoid of a sense of purpose. "What's it all for?" many find themselves wondering day after day. So much effort, so much energy, all being expended for what ultimate end? With no Big Dream to give life meaning or purpose, day-to-day living can come to feel like nothing more than a Big Waste.
The problem is compounded when both our home lives and our work lives seem equally pointless. For many workers, the sad reality is that there is no motivating sense of mission to be found in the workplace. They spend their time patiently looking forward to the end of the workday, to the start of the next weekend, to their next vacation, to the day of their retirement when maybe somebody will give them a gold watch and the whole sorry nightmare will be over.
Slogans and catchphrases abound to remind us how dreary the workplace is for many people—so much so that one could almost conceive of a television game show based on the challenge of enumerating all of them. To prove the point, ... it's time to play Complete The Phrase! And now, to help us play the game, here's the host of Complete The Phrase, Danny Silverman!
"Thank you, Johnny, and welcome to another edition of Complete The Phrase! All right, contestants, you know how the game works, so let's get started. Hands by your buzzers, please watch your monitors and ... Complete The Phrase!"
"That's right! Fifty points, congratulations. Let's check the big board and see what answers were voted into the number two and three spots by our studio audience. Okay, we've got 'disgruntled customers of ours' for number two, and 'disgruntled shareholders' as number three. But Sally correctly identified number one, 'disgruntled employees.' Plenty of those around, aren't there, Sally?"
"I'm one myself. Been one for years."
"All righty! Well done. Let's move to round two, contestants. Hands by your buzzers, please watch the monitors and ... Complete The Phrase!"
"I OWE, I OWE, SO IT'S ____________ I GO"
"So it's off to the bank I go?"
"Ooooo, no, that's not it, Tod, sorry. Jeff?"
"So it's off to work I go?"
"That's got it! Fifty points to you, Jeff. What other reason could there possibly be to drag ourselves to work, right?"
"I just keep hoping I'll win the lottery."
"You and me both, buddy! All right, let's check our alternate answers. We've got 'off to my parents I go' as number two—time to ask for a handout, I guess. And our number three is 'off to jail I go.' Right, so now we've got a tie situation, with Jeff and Sally each at fifty points. Let's move right on to round three. Ready, contestants? Please Complete The Phrase!"
"WORK _____________, BUT I NEED THE BUCKS."
"No buzzers? Looks like this one's got everyone stumped. A little clue to help you out, here—we're looking for a rhyme. Something that rhymes. Anybody? Jeff?"
"No—again, we're looking for a rhyme. Sally?"
Excerpted from DREAM CRAFTING by PAUL LEVESQUE ART McNEIL Copyright © 2003 by Paul Levesque and Art McNeil. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsAcknowledgments
Introduction: The Five Macroskills
Macroskill One: Aspiration—Igniting a Sense of Mission
1. Life in Alignment
2. Defining Your Dream
Macroskill Two: Motivation—Intensifying and Maintaining Resolve
3. An End to Self-Sabotage
4. The “No-Willpower” Myth
5. Time-Release Motivators
Macroskill Three: Projection—Linking Today with Tomorrow
6. Living with One Foot in Tomorrow
7. When Short-Term Needs Clash with Long-Term Goals
Macroskill Four: Inclusion—Getting Others Involved
8. Turning Resistance into Support
9. Turning Support into Participation
Macroskill Five: Application—Cultivating the Dreamcrafting Habit
10. The Power of Little Things to Make a Big Difference
About the Authors