In his latest publication, John Hagel III, a business strategist and entrepreneur who has lived forty years in Silicon Valley provides precious insights and tools to help us recognize fear for what it is, look beyond it and see the expanding opportunities that lie ahead of us. Our typical response to fear is to fold in to avoid risk, exaggerate the setbacks, focus on the short term and build a fence of distrust around us, which is counterproductive.
Hagel encourages us to think of our life as a journey by water. We start out with a vessel – ourselves – that is more or less seaworthy, depending on our particular strengths and weaknesses. To reach our goal, we will need a powerful motivation or narrative to impel us to set out from the safety of land; food and fuel to sustain us along the way (what he describes as passion) and most critically, help from others (via the learning platforms we can create, to mobilize them).
Narrative, passion and platforms are his three pillars of positive emotion, and while everyone’s journey is unique, we all need these three pillars to reach our destination.
In a world of mounting pressure, we have a natural tendency to become passive. Overwhelmed, we begin to lose the hope that we can make a difference. The power of narrative is that it moves us from observers to active participants. It helps persuade us that what we do matters. Narratives have the power to do four things: they focus on the future; they focus us on action; they focus us on others, and they catalyze passion.
Of course, a narrative can be defined and pursued on multiple levels: personal, institutional, geographical (e.g., Silicon Valley and its narrative about the opportunity to change the world with digital technology) and movement-based (religious, political or economic). Narratives have the greatest impact, says Hagel, when at a minimum, the first three levels are aligned.
In contrast, if our personal narrative is not effectively aligned with the narratives of our institutional and geographical settings, we will grow frustrated and find it difficult to seize the opportunities we desire. If our personal narrative is at odds with the broader narratives shaping our environment, we have to ask ourselves if we can influence the evolution of these broader narratives. If not, we should ask if we can achieve much greater impact if we changed our environment by working with another institution, moving to another geography or joining other movements.
Passion is not obsession. Passion builds relationships while obsession inhibits them. Passion creates options while obsession closes them and make us oblivious to the expanding opportunities around us. Passion is also not to be confused with ambition. People driven by ambition tend to be more focused on personal success and the extrinsic rewards that success provides, such as the higher salary and the more prestigious title. For the passionate explorer, it is enough to achieve a higher level of performance or create more value for others in the domain.
People with the passion of the explorer possess three elements:
Narratives can be a significant catalyst in drawing out the passion of the explorer, helping to create a world in which pressure evolves from a source of fear to one of excitement, calling us to achieve even more of our potential, both as individuals and collectively.
If you haven’t been able to identify your passion yet, here is what you can do:
As powerful as opportunity-based narratives and the passion of the explorer are, their impact can be significantly enhanced by platforms. We could consider which platforms we spend most of our time, and which have helped us achieve more of our potential. Then ask how we can use those platforms to further enhance our network of personal relationships and achieve even more of our potential.
Whatever our particular passion of the explorer might be, we will have a growing shared interest with others who have the same passion. The key is to find these people who can amplify our efforts and come together with them in small impact groups of three to fifteen members, in which we can work together to achieve the change we need. Harnessing platforms will enable us to scale our efforts more quickly. Hagel’s advice here is “small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion.
Institutions around the world are under growing pressure. Countries are polarizing as threat-based narratives play to our fears. To ensure that we stay focused on opportunities, here are the key lessons that Hagel would like to leave with us, so that we can find our path in these troubled times, and achieve our potential:
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