We see more opportunities when we are feeling inspiration and more threats when stressed. What are you anxious about? What are you excited about? What opportunity are you not seeing? Changing the narrative in the face of threatening conditions help us feel better and notice the things we hadn't before.
My thesis advisor Ed McMullen (one of our county's foremost scholars of entrepreneurial thought) once said that, of all the traits that we associate with successful entrepreneurs, it was a high tolerance of ambiguity that he thought really set apart the high flyers from the masses. Ambiguity is one of the four components that the US military determined defined the most dynamic theatre of operations. Indeed, this is the very business, economic and political environment we all work in today. And it only seems to be getting more challenging to spot growth opportunities in twisted flow of the world.
Negativity bias (which I prefer to call pessimism bias) is one of the most problematic factors in dealing with a rapidly changing market condition that is difficult to make predictions in. This is the tendency we all have in an absence of obvious positive information to assume that the situation is bad. There are strong evolutionary reasons for this. A false positive–making a type 1 error by assuming something was an opportunity rather than a threat–often lead death (the classic "rustle in the bushes" being a predator rather than a potential mate). False negatives only led to lost opportunities but usually meant survival. All of your ancestors managed to procreate following this threat-averse strategy.
In today's world, it has now become more costly to lose opportunities. But opportunities are usually shrouded in a negative-looking cloud of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Assuming something is bad is now often the type 1 error.
When people feel stressed and have limited information
they make up stories and those stories are often bad.
They don't serve us. But, we have a choice about what kind of stories we make up. This is why I think it's so important to operate from a strong vision.
The problem with most vision statements is that they are often banal and full of vapid clichés, tired metaphors, opaque acronyms and useless fluff. A great vision statement–one that helps people see opportunity in a sea of threats–is the moral of a great story.
Well-constructed stories convey a worthwhile world-view that
give people a reason to feel inspired rather than stressed.
What are the elements of a great vision and a great story? Let's rebuild the VUCA acronym to generate some clues:
Visceral: This is the story that operates with strong emotion and vivid word pictures that allow the reader or listener to feel the truth of the moral of the story rather than just process it at an intellectual level. We see and hear what the storyteller sees and hears and the emotion flows accordingly.
Unexpected: The stories that make the most impact are provocative and counter-intuitive. There is something surprising, ironic or even a bit unsettling about them. They get us thinking in different ways and adopting alternative paradigms and frame. These get through the defenses and catch the audience a little of guard, cutting through all the noise and landing a strong point.
Concrete: There is a well organized argument of strong points leading to an obvious conclusion. The framework hangs together around practical, real-world ideas backed with data a proof.
Actionable: This part of the story has a call to action to do something tangible, feasible and immediate. This leads the audience to something constructive and proactive rather than reactive and damaging.
Give your people a compelling narrative to make sense of the world or
they will likely make one up that does not serve them or you.
It's a tough world to work and live in right now. Stress is the default mode. Let's give our people a reason to look up and something to look forward to. One way to feel more inspiration is to order my book on inspiration. Order it here. It's a short read long on perspective.