Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Living / Communicating A Dream

Back on 31 August 2010, I reflected that the American Civil Rights movement never fully achieved their dream. The racial barriers have been reduced but not completely. However, it was the dream of "a job for every American in the pursuit of peace" (Walter Reuther) that remains unfulfilled and in the current economic practices unlikely to fulfilled. When monetary concerns dominate and cloud the thinking then the abilities and skills of the people are ignored.

Reading Stephen Denning's "Squirrel Inc." (2004), I am reminded of the change patterns book (Manns & Rising 2005). Both books talk of bringing change to an organisation. However, Denning talks more of resistance to change and of methods to overcome that resistance.

Denning helps explain a little better why the Civil Rights dream has not been fulfilled. I have said the foundation for the resistance is economic thinking. Denning shows or talks of this in his story when he puts the words "Your hard numbers are about the past. The future can't be scrutinized. It hasn't happened yet. It doesn't have any hard numbers. You've never seen a nut-storing organization. Neither have those fifty-six squirrels you interviewed" in Diana's mouth (p 108).

If we ask people to pursue a dream, we are asking them to do something that they haven't done or seen before. There is no hard evidence of the possible outcome or of the steps required to make it happen. Any attempt to gather numbers is meaningless because there is nothing to measure. Pursuing a dream is about believing in possibilities not recalling past victories or failures. What can be shown by exploring the past is that full employment hasn't been achieved in pursuing peace and that current economic practices stand in the way of achieving that dream. Denning emphasises how the "knowledge game" tends to work on current assumptions and not challenge them (p 110). We see this in economic research that continually emphasises and supports current practice without ever questioning the direction or assumptions. It takes a brave researcher to step outside the current paradigm and challenge the underlying thinking.

Yet to fulfil the dream of "full employment for peace," we need to be challenging the underlying thinking. We need to be communicating a dream and causing the current system to crumble. To some extent natural disasters do this on a small scale. People have to step outside the restrictions to survive but as normality is restored, there is a return to old economic thinking and assumptions and the destruction of the new sharing that developed.

Denning has his character say "In contrast, a vision doesn't use these exclusionary moves. It doesn't claim to be true or false. It offers you a possibility. It bids you escape from the constraints of the past and enter fresh territory. It opens up a landscape of possibilities still to come" (p 110). The dream of "full employment" has to throw up new possibilities and challenge old stereotypes. Such a future based on placing the needs of people ahead of economics has to open doors to new possibilities. Old patterns of thinking have to crumble. Old rules and restrictions have to be discarded. The new hope has to flow from new paradigms and new thought processes.

Denning goes on to say "A vision is a dream, but it's a dream with a twist: it's a dream that's shared. When we dream together, it's already the beginning of a new reality. When we share the same dream, we all begin to participate in it" (p 111).

The first step in making a vision or dream reality is to share it. We have to use our telling of the dream to break down the resistance to challenge the "standard ways of doing things" that have "become embedded in the minds and hearts of everyone" (p 116). We need to learn to live the dream regardless of the cost in the current system so that people are free to think in fresh ways about living in community.


Denning, S. (2004). Squirrel Inc.: A fable of leadership through storytelling. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Manns, M. L., & Rising, L. (2003). Fearless change: Patterns for introducing new ideas. Boston: Addison Wesley.

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