I recently read a fascinating study where researchers gave participants the ability to fly using virtual reality.
Some were passengers in a helicopter.
Others flew under their own power with arms extended.
The people who flew like “Superman” were later more likely to provide help to others in the real world.
The theory is that their inner experiences inspired them to embody the role of superhero.
Without them having the slightest clue.
It sounds crazy, but I believe it.
I know, first hand, the power of stories.
I wrote my first book more than a decade ago.
I got the idea while sitting unemployed and downhearted at my breakfast table.
As I stared blankly into my coffee cup, I caught a glimpse of my youngest daughter playing with her spoon.
She was gazing into it with a puzzled look on her face.
Then she flipped it around and raised her eyebrows.
"Honey, what are you doing?" I asked.
"Daddy? How come this way, I’m upside down? But when I turn it around, I’m right side up?!"
She waited anxiously for a response.
I sat speechless.
I knew the words "convex" and "concave," but I had no idea why her spoon reflection was flipping (I still don't).
However, that simple question set my mind in motion.
I imagined a story about business.
About how people knew a lot of fancy concepts, but not much about the real lives of the people they serve.
Then I conjured up another story, with me as the protagonist who exposes the Emperor's nakedness.
And then another, with me writing a book and standing on stage speaking to large groups of people.
My self-deceptive mind was on one heck of a roll.
And, thankfully, it's been rolling along ever since.
But most of us forget.
There was a time when our minds were always on a roll.
We used boxes and sticks to become astronauts and artists.
We created fantasy characters and outrageous worlds.
We drew whimsical pictures and cooked up wild ideas.
We were complete originals.
And some of us, the ones with the most vivid stories, became today's inventors, poets, actors, and musicians.
Stories are powerful.
Because we all become the stories we tell ourselves.
This piece is from my latest book, "The Business of Belief." The story about my daughter, and the book it birthed, happened almost 15 years ago. That book, "Sandbox Wisdom," has gone on to become an international bestseller. It was recently retired by the publisher and since that time I've had many requests to republish an updated paperback and Kindle version. I'm pleased to announce that the print version is now available, and the Kindle version will be available soon. Thank you all for providing the impetus.
Purpose is the new black in business.
Everyone is busy reframing what they do.
From what to why.
And once discovered, they turn on the storytelling machine.
And wait for attention to blossom and business to bear fruit.
But this contemporary approach is misguided.
Because purpose isn't discovered.
It isn't a carefully considered and crafted image.
It's a bold statement.
A way of believing and behaving that grows and evolves and enhances people's lives.
Purpose isn't something we pull out of our brands.
It's something we passionately build into them.
Out of our experiences and values.
It's not something that we uncover.
It's an essence that we discover through our choices and sacrifices.
Purpose means progress.
It's movement towards a more ethical and meaningful way of being.
Purpose creates a new world.
One that compensates for the one we typically experience.
A new world of truth, compassion and excitement.
Purpose is an aspiration.
It's a direction that drives us.
It informs our minds and engages our hearts.
Emerson wrote, "The purpose of life is not to be happy.
It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate.
To have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."
The same is true of business and our work.
Is your business helpful?
Is it enjoyable?
Does it improve the lives of your customers and employees?
Are you honest, straightforward and trustworthy?
And if you think compassion is a wishy-washy concept, think again.
Compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of another.
Coupled with the desire to relieve it.
And that's the key to innovation.
To meaning, renewal and growth.
The future is not some place that we are going.
It's a reality that we are creating.
For ourselves, our children, our communities, and future generations.
THAT is our real purpose.
And it's your business to create it.
Here's a warning sign.
One to alert you to when you and your organization are fooling yourselves?
Simply listen closely for these erroneous statements.
"Our real problem is a perception problem.
People simply don't understand our unique value."
What is a "perception problem" anyway?
Isn't "perception" knowledge gained by perceiving something?
And isn't perceived value in the subjective eyes of the beholder?
So what's the "real" problem?
I'll tell you what it is.
Organizations want to change people's perceptions in a flash.
And they're discovering that they can't.
In his book Story, the screenwriter Robert McKee distinguished fact from truth.
"What happens is fact, not truth.
Truth is what we think about what happens."
Perception, people's truth, is what drives their behavior.
But people don't perceive in order to discover the facts, to construct reality.
They perceive in order to make personal meaning of their present circumstances.
By comparing them to their past experiences.
Ultimately, people perceive in order to make predictions, to manage the future.
A future that uniquely suits their needs and desires.
Plato wrote, "Knowledge is nothing but perception."
If you want people to know about you and your brand and its value to them, stop fooling yourself.
Your facts will never be the same as their truth.
If you focus on the facts, you’ll believe that your mission should be to convey those facts.
It's an illuson.
The truth rules.
Everything is subjective.
Every decision is driven by what is inside someone.
Memories, images, stories and feelings.
The key to successful influence is to forget the language of logic and arguments.
And become proficient at the language of perceptions and beliefs.
It was a beautiful spring morning in the early 90s.
My business partner found me laid out on a hospital bed.
A respiratory ventilator strapped to my face.
It was a fateful experience.
Thankfully, it wasn’t medically necessary.
I placed myself in that uncomfortable position (it was my company's ventilator).
I wanted to feel what our customers were feeling.
And I was hoping to solve an intractable product performance puzzle.
After what seemed like hours of breathing into a plastic mask, the answer mysteriously appeared to me.
It manifested itself as a "what if" question.
One that our people fervently noodled over, experimented with and, eventually, brought to life in a very creative way.
I’ve often thought about that "Eureka" moment.
As well as other sparks of inspiration I’ve experienced over the years.
How does my mind manufacture these insights?
Am I a right-brained person?
And how did others come up with their breakthrough marketplace ideas.
Especially since other very smart people watched in disbelief.
Sometime around 2005, I was introduced to a theory of brain function that would answer my question.
And radically change my views on both creativity and human behavior.
That theory is called memory-prediction.
It was developed by Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot, and described in his 2004 book On Intelligence.
"The brain is not a computer, supplying an output for each input it receives.
Instead, it is a memory system that stores experiences in a way that reflects the true structure of the world, remembering sequences of events and their nested relationships and making predictions based on those memories.
It is this memory-prediction system that forms the basis of intelligence, perception, creativity, and even consciousness."
It appears the brain works like an elaborate and evolving "connect the dots" puzzle.
Adding new experiences creates new dots.
And that makes our mental pictures richer and more insightful.
My flash of insight was not created by switching my brain.
From a rational, left-sided orientation to a more intuitive, right-brained one.
Instead, my new breathing experience added some critical missing dots to a partial picture.
Enough dots for the pattern to magically appear in my mind’s eye.
In his book The Future of Capitalism, Lester Thurow made a provocative prediction.
"We are about to enter a world of punctuated equilibrium--a period of economic change so dramatic and unsettling that America’s middle class, as we now know it, may simply cease to exist."
He concluded that "business must learn to operate in a world where human capital or 'brain power' is the only strategic competitive asset."
We've entered that period.
We live in that world.
Yes, it's time to turn on our "brain power."
But we don't need more data or meetings.
We don't need to "be creative" and "think outside the box."
We need to get outside the box.
We need to turn off theories and turn on uncertainty.
By experiencing life firsthand.
We need to spawn new patterns by creating new experiences.
We need more dots.
In the book Human Motivation, Harvard psychology professor David McClelland points to three things that drive everyone.
Achievement, the desire to compete against increasingly challenging goals.
Affiliation, the desire to be liked and loved.
And power, the desire for influence and respect for oneself, and to empower others, to offer them influence and respect.
My research reveals three additional ones.
Aesthetics, the desire for sensory pleasure and stimulation.
Control, a sense of being in the driver's seat.
And identity, advancement of our personal narrative and values.
So ask yourself, What are we doing to motivate people, to feed their hungers and desires?
Are we helping them achieve?
Are we feeding their hungers to be recognized, to be liked and loved?
Are we connecting them with like-minded people and empowering them to empower others?
Are we providing a beautiful, pleasurable, and engaging experience?
Are we providing a sense of control, full knowledge and participation?
Are we helping them feel good about themselves and their decisions in our presence?
Do we believe passionately in these pursuits?
Now, list precisely how you are uniquely going about it.
There's your brand strategy.
As it so happens, it's your leadership strategy as well.
Why is change so difficult for organizations?
Because of a generally accepted myth.
The one that imagines that businesses are made.
By acquiring, arranging and rearranging parts.
People, teams, departments, managers.
Leaders think of themselves as technicians and architects.
Strategists who develop a plan and fashion the business in accordance with that plan.
Artists who impose their will on the "material" and bring the creation to life.
But businesses are not put together or molded.
You don't work on them from the outside in, like a potter works with clay.
They expand, they blossom.
Like a cell in the womb, they progressively complicate themselves.
Businesses are living organisms that grow from the inside out.
And, like the human body, they resist foreign bodies.
Even if those objects or elements are beneficial.
People hate the idea of corporate politics.
But it's a critically important leadership activity.
It's like a powerful immunosuppressant.
It gets ideas safely into the organism.
And gives them a chance to take hold and grow.
Because virtually every decision of any importance will meet with resistance.
It's how leaders deal with that reality that determines the future of the organization.
And that's called politics.
The opposite of dark is light.
Light makes dark less of what it is.
The opposite of hot is cold.
Adding one to the other diminishes both.
So what's the opposite of success?
The word that probably comes to mind is failure.
But that can't be.
Because failure fosters success.
It produces learning, insights and resilience.
Success and failure are two sides of the same coin.
It's like exercise and rest.
Rest isn't the opposite of exercise.
Rest is what nurtures exercise.
It strengthens the body, prepares it for more.
Exercise and rest (and food) are two sides of the same coin.
The fitness coin.
Exercise isn't the outcome, fitness is.
Improved energy, strength and appearance.
Similarly, success isn't an outcome.
It's simply one side of a coin.
The coin called living.
Living the life you are meant to live.
And the results are, curiously, the same as fitness.
Energy, strength and appearance.
Energy in body, mind and spirit.
Strength of will and character.
And appearance, especially to those who matter most.
But not a superficial, invented appearance.
An inspiring, meaningful one.
One built on belief, sacrifice and hard work.
One for your children, and your children's children, to learn from and emulate.
So then, what is the opposite of success?
Just like with exercise, the opposite of success is indolence.
Apathy, idleness, a spiritless life of doubt and regret.
Failure is exercise.
Success is rest.
And a passionate life is a soulful mixture.